New Island-based air ambulance used to transport patient off Gabriola

Sounder News

Wednesday, January 27 2021

Gabriolans in the clinic area this past Tuesday saw the newest helicopter in the BC Emergency Health Services fleet on the helipad at the Gabriola Community Health Centre.

Staff with the BC Emergency Health Services said it had come to Gabriola to transport a patient needing urgent care off the island.

The new dedicated air ambulance helicopter - based in Parksville - was called to Gabriola Island on Jan. 20 at 1:37 pm for a critical patient transfer.

The patient was transported from the Gabriola Health Centre and airlifted to hospital in Victoria in serious condition.

File Photo courtesy BC Emergency Health Services

This was the first helicopter transport by BC EHS off Gabriola in 2021. On January 27, there was another helicopter transport off Gabriola, this time by one of the helicopters based out of Vancouver.

Staff with BC EHS said there were a total of nine medical air ambulance transports from Gabriola in 2020. Two were patient transfers from the Gabriola Health Centre, and seven were responses to 9-1-1 medical emergencies. The air responses in 2020 were all out of Vancouver’s air ambulance base.

Prior to November 2020, BC Emergency Health Services - which operates the BC Ambulance Service - has called in an air ambulance response from Vancouver, or to contractors on the Island to assist when a patient requires an air ambulance transport to hospital.

BC EHS says that emergency air response now begins mid-island, with the dedicated helicopter and plane allowing BCEHS to quickly transport patients in rural and remote communities to places with higher levels of care.

This includes transports from smaller communities on Vancouver Island such as Port Hardy, Tofino or Gold River to hospitals in Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver.

Additional air resources are coupled with an increase in staffing in the Nanaimo region including the addition of five Critical Care Paramedics (this doubles the number of Critical Care Paramedics in the region).

The new resources began mid-month November 2020, and immediately began filling a demand, logging 2-3 patient air responses a day

To offer the new Island service, BCEHS is partnering with Ascent Helicopters for the air ambulance helicopter – a specialized MD902 complete with night vision technology for poor light responses. 

BC EHS said about 90 per cent of air ambulance responses are interfacility transfers, from hospital to hospital. 

The BCEHS air ambulance program is made up of a dedicated fleet of 16 air ambulances: six helicopters and 10 planes. Helicopters are based in: Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kamloops, Prince George and Prince Rupert. Planes are based in: Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Prince George, and Fort St. John.

The Gabriola Helipad, built with funding from the Gabriola Ambulance Society, is located adjacent to the Urgent Care Clinic in the Gabriola Community Health Centre.

BC EHS staff said having the Nanaimo-based helicopter available will mean a quicker helicopter response to Gabriola, as well as ensure that weather is less of a factor in the helicopter being able to fly.

Staff said there are times where weather in the Nanaimo region is ok for flying, but not in Vancouver, which has meant the helicopters couldn’t leave Vancouver to get to Vancouver Island locations.