Sundre hospital helipad too small for larger STARS chopper

A Sundre town councillor is concerned because Sundre Hospital and Care Centre helipads are too small for the newer, faster and larger STARS Air Ambulance choppers to land.

A Sundre town councillor is concerned because Sundre Hospital and Care Centre helipads are too small for the newer, faster and larger STARS Air Ambulance choppers to land.

Coun. Chris Vardas said he is worried about the time it will take to transfer patients between emergency vehicles and the aircraft in a critical situation.

“I understand the helicopter is faster and bigger but it would be nice for (the aircraft) to land at the hospital,” said Vardas.

The new Calgary-based AW139 aircraft was recently on a training mission stopping at hospitals, airports and other strips in Sundre, Olds, Innisfail and Rocky Mountain House.

Kirk Dobrowolski, STARS community education leader/flight paramedic, said there are helipads in the province that are unable to accommodate the new aircraft but there is no reason to worry.

STARS still uses the existing BK117 aircraft for the majority of its flights and will continue to land at the hospital in Sundre.

Dobrowolski said the new model will be sent out on mission-specific trips throughout the province.

Alberta Health Services is expected to upgrade 13 landing pads in Alberta on a priority basis over the next three years. Sundre is not on the list but will be assessed on a regular basis and will be upgraded based on need and as funding sources are confirmed, according to AHS.

“So a place like Sundre may be better suited just to that helicopter that may be able to land right there to access the patient,” said Dobrowolski. “But that also means if that helicopter is down or the needs of the patient suit the new helicopter, we have alternate landing zones such as airports and airstrips.”

Dobrowolski said they would use ground ambulance to transport crews to the patient’s side and then back to the aircraft. Dobrowolski said some patients are time dependent but others are not, like when they are moving from one hospital to another.

STARS has added two AW139 helicopter to its fleet. The new aircraft boasts faster speeds, better fuel economy and larger medical interior than the BK117 aircraft used in STARS missions.

The second chopper is expected to be in service in early February for daytime missions. Within a few months, it will be in service full time. The first AW139 aircraft stopped in Red Deer as part of its training tour last summer and officially joined the fleet in December.

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s helipad can handle the new helicopters.

STARS plans to eventually replace the 27-year-old BK117 aircraft, which is no longer in production.

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