Cleared for landings - hospital pad ready
By Laura Button
The heliport at the Rocky hospital is once again open to aircraft – nearly two years to the day since it closed for renovations.
On Aug. 3, Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced that Transport Canada had issued a flight certificate allowing helicopters, including STARS air ambulances, to land at the facility.
The Transport Canada inspection occurred on July 26, and AHS received notification of its approval on July 31.
Construction to upgrade the heliport began Aug. 10, 2015. The work was initially scheduled to be completed within four months, but the project was plagued with construction delays and off-site obstructions. The town’s decommissioned water tower was ultimately demolished this spring to allow the heliport to open. (See timeline on page A5)
“We are pleased to announce the heliport is operational in time for the August long weekend,” said Kerry Bales, chief zone officer of AHS Central Zone. “It has been a lengthy process, but we have very much appreciated the collaboration with the town and community.”
Steve Rees, senior program officer for capital management for AHS, acknowledged the project dragged on longer than he or anyone would have liked. He said AHS will take steps to ensure similar setbacks don’t occur on other projects.
“The lesson learned is really to ensure we have clear communication between us and all parties that are involved – that’s user groups, towns or municipalities, Transport Canada and with our consultants,” he said, adding future projects will rely on very, very clear communication.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” he said.
To date, the Rocky heliport upgrade has cost AHS $3,063,000. Rees said a few outstanding invoices will bring that tally to $3.1 million for the entire project, including the demolition of the town’s water tower, relocation of key communications infrastructure and the mitigation of other minor off-site obstructions.
He said AHS is still hoping to recoup some of those costs, possibly through legal action.
“We’re still in progress with that,” Rees said.
AHS, in conjunction with the Town of Rocky Mountain House, is planning a ribbon-cutting and grand opening celebration in the near future. A date has not yet been set.
“The push was to get it open as soon as possible so we could have that facility operational and helping to save lives,” said Rod Fraser, the town’s director of planning and infrastructure. There is some landscaping left to be done where the water tower stood.
“We’re going to ask them to smooth it a little, maybe add a little bit of dirt to it so it’s easier to mow and there are no rocks,” he said.
As for the communications infrastructure, a permanent tower will be erected within two months and the town has already transitioned to a cellular communications system to support its water and sewer SCADA software.
“It’s a bit of an improvement in some ways for us as far as being able to connect to the computer. The changeover piece just had to be done. With losing the tower we needed a mechanism to communicate with all of our facilities, moving sewage and things on a regular basis,” explained Fraser.
AHS will reimburse the town $550,000 for the water tower demolition, communication tower relocation, costs of a temporary communication tower and the lowering of the ammonia stack at the Christenson Sports and Wellness Centre. That figure is included in AHS’s $3.1 million total.
Before the water tower was demolished, Fraser removed the plaque indicating it was built in 1965. He plans to bring it to town councillors to decide what to do with that piece of town history.
Heliport opening welcome news for patients and residents
The new heliport can accommodate both models of STARS helicopters: the BK 117 and the larger AW139, as well as military aircraft.
“The ability to have all sizes of medevac helicopters land right here at the Rocky Mountain House Health Centre will improve access for patients who need critical care transport,” said Bales.
While construction was underway and before Transport Canada signed off on the heliport, all STARS helicopters were landing at the Rocky Airport. Ground ambulances were used to transport patients to and from the health centre and airport.
“Many lives have been saved because of our ability to provide transport and medical expertise to critically ill and injured patients via air ambulance,” said Mike Lamacchia, vice-president of Alberta and Saskatchewan operations at STARS.
STARS helicopters are more than an ambulance in the air; they are sophisticated medical environments brought directly to the patient. This can mean the difference in the health outcome of a patient when time is of the essence.
On board, a full array of medication and equipment is at the disposal of the air medical crew. STARS personnel are able to administer life-saving drugs, defibrillate a patient’s heart, transfuse blood, and peer inside a patient using portable ultrasound.
Area residents attending Marketplace on Main on Thursday, July 3, were happy to hear the heliport was open.
“I’m glad the helipad is usable. After all, STARS saves lives,” said Shelly Siltala.
“I’m so glad,” echoed Liane Huson. “It’s been a long time coming.”
“It’s about time,” said Wendy Finlay. “Now we need a new hospital to go with it.”
With files by Jordan Johnston