Need for airport upgrades presented to council

October 1, 2018 7:39 am
Kevin Weedmark

Jeff St. Onge and Dr. Schalk Van Der Merwe of the Moosomin Flying Club and Carly St. Onge of the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance attended the Sept. 26 meeting of Moosomin town council to speak about the need for a paved and lit runway at Moosomin Airport to accommodate the air ambulance.

The air ambulance service flies fixed-wing aircraft that have a higher speed and greater payload capacity than the STARS air ambulance.

According to the presentation, the air ambulance has fewer weather restrictions than the STARS helicopter, and gets a patient from Moosomin to Saskatoon quickly.

That’s important, Dr. Van Der Merwe said, because with the opening of the Saskatchewan Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon, pediatric cases will be treated in Saskatoon, and treatment of stroke patients is also being centralized in Saskatoon.

“If your child is really sick and needs tertiary care, you’re going to Saskatoon from next year on,” Dr. Van Der Merwe said.

He said that, currently, stroke patients are being taken from this area to Yorkton to determine what type of stroke the patient is suffering (blockage or bleeding) and then patients are taken by road ambulance from there to Saskatoon for treatment. “This is the new Saskatchewan stroke protocol,” he said. “Everyone goes to Saskatoon. The absolute experts are in Saskatoon.”

He said time is of the essence for stroke patients. “The longer any part of your body is not getting oxygen, the more damage there is going to be,” he said. “On a good day to Yorkton it’s an hour and 30 minutes on a nice sunny day. But in the winter if there’s a bit of snow and you’re going through two valleys it’s going to be longer.”

Jeff St. Onge said the Air Ambulance can get a patient from Moosomin to Saskatoon in 50 minutes, or to Regina in 28 minutes.

“You can get patients into Saskatoon, where the children’s hospital is and where the stroke protocol is, in a shorter length of time.”

He said the air ambulance can also bring medical professionals to the community.

“They come in on these King Air 200s, and they’re a high-powered twin. They’re the only ones that do neonatal ICU. When they fly out of Saskatoon they can bring the neonatal doctor, the nurse, the respiratory tech, the incubator. It’s not like they are coming out to get the patient and taking them to the doctor—they’re bringing that doctor out there.”

Carly St. Onge said the neonatal team can be put together quickly. “Our window is 30 minutes and we don’t often take that long.”

“We need all three,” Jeff St. Onge said. “We need road ambulance, we need STARS, and we need Saskatchewan Air Ambulance. Right now we have two out of the three.”

He said the air ambulance has extremely long range on a tank of fuel and doesn’t need to stop to refuel for runs within Saskatchewan. “The Air Ambulance has a range of 2,300 miles (3,700 km). Carly describes one day she flew from Saskatoon, picked up an organ for an organ transplant, and flew to Vancouver, and did not fill up.”

“It was Christmas day,” Carly added.

Jeff St. Onge told council that the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance would like to have a paved runway at Moosomin. He pointed out that Moosomin’s population and medical facility merit the designation of a primary airport, but the gravel runway and the lack of lights knocks the local airport down two notches on the provincial ranking system to a local airport, the type that would generally serve a community of less than 1,000 people.

“Jim Thompson (the head of Saskatchewan Air Ambulance) is concerned and desperately wants an airport here. People within an hour of Moosomin would benefit from an airport that can work for Saskatchewan Air Ambulance.”

Jeff St. Onge said the cost to build and pave the runway at Moosomin would be in the neighborhood of $2 million.

He said he feels the best way forward would be to get local municipalities together, try to get commitments up to $275,000 in total from municipalities within the region, representing about 10,000 people, then apply for a provincial matching grant of $275,000 for total base funding of $550,000, then seek corporate contributions on top of the base funding.

Council members discussed the proposal after hearing from the delegation. “There would be so many benefits,” said Councillor Jason Miller. “They didn’t touch at all on the economic impact it could have because it’s health and safety first.”

“There are so many spinoffs,” agreed Mayor Larry Tomlinson.

“If you have a child or a grandchild, or if you have the possibility of having a stroke, you just can’t be without it from here on,” said Councillor Ron Fisk. “It’s important. We have to make it work.”

The speed with which the Air Ambulance could get patients from Moosomin to Saskatoon was brought up as a major benefit.

“Centralization in health care is never going to change, it’s only going to get worse,” said councillor Murray Gray.

Councillors discussed what kind of contribution the town could make to the project. They decided to attend the meeting of local municipalities and show the town’s support.

“We need to show our support and show some leadership, and get everyone behind it,” said Councillor Murray Gray.