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Central Newfoundland, Burin peninsula air ambulance committee unhappy with progress

With other provincial emergency response units established in Gander, Eugene Nippard, chair of the Gander-based Air Ambulance Aircraft Committee, says a centrally located, supplemental medical air ambulance service makes sense.
With other provincial emergency response units established in Gander, Eugene Nippard, chair of the Gander-based Air Ambulance Aircraft Committee, says a centrally located, supplemental medical air ambulance service makes sense. - SaltWire File Photo

Minister says supports are difficult, ferry needs to be used as one of those

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

After a year of bantering back and forth, it appears the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Air Ambulance Group for Central Newfoundland and Burin Peninsula are still at a stalemate.

Eugene Nippard, chair of the air ambulance committee, says the group — made up of representatives from 15 or more communities from across central Newfoundland, the northeast coast and the south coast, including the Burin Peninsula — is frustrated with trying to get the government to take concrete action on its requests.

Nippard said there is a terrible loss of time getting to people in need, and the air ambulance service is costing taxpayers millions of dollars that could be saved with a medical team based in Gander.

“Gander is closer from all accounts. They have based a water bomber there, a search and rescue plane there. It is centrally located,’’ he said.

“If there is a late emergency, it takes hours instead of minutes to get to the site. That just doesn’t make sense." — Eugene Nippard

“If there is a late emergency, it takes hours instead of minutes to get to the site. That just doesn’t make sense. We need to use the air ambulance instead of the ferry, as that just shags up the schedule. If those pilots of the ships have to go out, they need a proper rest period.’’

Nippard said he has no idea why it is taking so long, as Minister of Health and MHA for Gander District John Haggie and Minister of Transportation and Works Steve Crocker have stated on several occasions they are in favour of having Gander as a base for air ambulance service with medical personnel for the region.

There are four fixed-wing aircraft that can be used for emergencies and, in addition, there are two helicopters that can be employed. The only issue with those is they are restricted to daytime and visual flight rules, which limits their use.

John Haggie. - SaltWire File Photo
John Haggie. - SaltWire File Photo

“I can see where this is a source of frustration for (Nippard). It is unfortunate it came to this, but we continue to work with Central Health to find supports for the system,’’ Haggie said.

“The latest trigger here happened about two weeks ago when a ferry was used to move someone from Change Islands, a place that is not accessible for a fixed-wing aircraft.’’

However, nothing is in place after more than a year of work on the issue.

The Air Ambulance Group for Central Newfoundland and Burin Peninsula regions say it can’t wait any longer for the provincial government to act on important issues facing the region.

Nippard says the committee wonders if they are being overruled in their efforts to get the air ambulance service up and running the way it should be for the benefit of people who require this critical service.

Nippard said it doesn’t make sense to have the air ambulance aircraft in Gander fly to St. John’s to pick up medical personnel and then proceed to the emergency site, which could be anywhere in the region.

“There is another meeting set for May 2. We are not sure what we are going to do, but if there are still no answers, we will demonstrate,” Nippard said Monday.

“There has been a request for proposal ongoing since 2017. That proposal is there, they just aren’t moving on it. They have more flexibility and it is supposed to get done.”


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