Medical transport service downed

Air ambulance lacks plane for transfers


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A successful provincial air ambulance service has been grounded since June because the province is short a plane.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/10/2012 (3640 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A successful provincial air ambulance service has been grounded since June because the province is short a plane.

The Health Department launched the service in southern Manitoba last October as a pilot project. It was designed to speed patient transfers from rural hospitals to Winnipeg for specialized diagnostic tests and medical procedures.

By all accounts, patients gave the new service a thumbs-up, as it saved them from long transports by ground ambulance. It also kept ambulance crews from working extra-long hours and kept them closer to home so they could better respond to local emergencies.

But when forest-fire season began, the plane, borrowed from the Conservation Department, had to be returned. The service has been on hold since.

The 1,300-member Paramedics Association of Manitoba was aware Manitoba Health was using a borrowed plane, but it didn’t expect the service would be interrupted for several months, said Jodi Possia, its chairwoman.

“I don’t think anyone would have foreseen or anticipated such a long delay in service. It’s certainly having a negative impact,” she said.

“Not only are we concerned for the paramedics who are working long hours to make those land transports, but it’s impacting patients negatively,” said Possia, whose organization advocates for improved patient care.

It’s not unheard of for paramedics to work close to 24 hours straight if they find themselves transporting a patient a long distance after working a full shift, Possia said.

Last month, two paramedics returning to Swan River after transferring a patient to Winnipeg rolled their ambulance on Highway 16 after the driver fell asleep. Neither was hurt, but the crash was a reminder of the dangers of working marathon shifts.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, which bargains for paramedics, is also anxious for the air ambulance service to resume.

“I would agree with (the paramedics association) that it’s a good program and let’s see it get going again,” MGEU spokesman John Baert said.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald said she hopes the patient-transfer service can resume in a matter of weeks. The government intends to make the program permanent, she said.

“We are actively pursuing either acquiring that particular plane again or an alternative plane, so that we can get that program right back up and running,” she said.

Oswald said the intent was always to evaluate the program after the pilot period. It proved to be cost-effective and of great benefit to patients, she said.

The downed service has no impact on emergency air-ambulance service in southern Manitoba, which is provided by LifeFlight and the STARS helicopter ambulance. A non-emergency air-ambulance transport program for northern patients also continues as usual.

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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