Hospital helipad plans grounded

Plans for a helipad at the Fort St. John Hospital have been grounded—at least for now. 

The Fort St. John Hospital Helipad Steering Committee released its final report and found its construction isn’t economically feasible or medically critical now or in the near future.

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“We realized the data we need to make the right decision isn’t necessarily there,” said Moira Green, who represented the City of Fort St. John on the committee. “The recommendation is that BC Ambulance do some monitoring so we know how many medevacs there are, and that they provide an annual report to Northern Health, the Fort St. John Hospital, (the city), the regional district, and (oil and gas producers) on what kind of movements those are.”

In inclement weather, it would be safer for a helicopter to land at the airport, Green said. 

“If you have the choice in bad weather of landing at the hospital or landing in a controlled airspace, where there’s a tower and snow removal and staff and lights…the helipad itself would have some significant limitations with regard to bad weather and visibility,” she said.

The steering committee’s findings are a reversal from a 2013 study’s finding that said the helipad was feasible to build as long as it met certain regulatory conditions. 

The steering committee was formed to expand on that report, and included representatives from Northern Health, Fort St. John Hospital, B.C. Emergency Health Services, City of Fort St. John, PRRD Areas B and C, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, BC Hydro, and Energy Services BC.

The committee determined several measures be enacted immediately, including establishing a monitoring system to gather and report data on the number of patients being transferred from the airport to the hospital.

The Fort St. John Petroleum Association originally raised the need for a helipad in 2012 after Northern Health announced one would not be part of the new Fort St. John Hospital facilities.

Fort St. John residents working in the oil and gas industry were concerned about quick access to medical care in cases of serious injuries, particularly considering the remote locations and inherent dangers that come with the job.

The helipad also had the support of the City of Fort St. John, the Peace River Regional District and Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer.

The steering committee did note that a helipad could become necessary in the future, so the City of Fort St. John and the PRRD need to review their respective zoning bylaws to ensure that any future developments not impede the potential construction of a helipad.

“Our job is to make sure that a future helipad is possible,” said Green.

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