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Busiest summer for medevacs

Chris Puglia
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 30/02) - Medflight has had one of its busiest summers on record with 167 patient transfers recorded in June and July.

Those numbers reflect total number of medevacs, including flights south and to and from other Northern communities.

Pat O'Connor, director of Medflight, says the service transferred 98 patients in June and 69 in July.

"It was our busiest June," said O'Connor. "We've certainly done 69 before."

Of those 167 transfers, Yellowknifer learned from the Capital Health Authority in Edmonton and other sources that 29 were ICU transfers to the south.

Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton received about 25 critical care patients, three were sent to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Grande Prairie and at least one patient was medevaced to Fort McMurray Regional Hospital.

Stanton Territorial Hospital operation manager Donna Zaozirny said she was surprised by the numbers given out by the Capital Health Authority, but was unable to say if all medevacs were related to the closure of Stanton's intensive care unit. It closed June 7 due to a staffing shortage.

The hospital is now trying to determine how many medevacs have resulted from the unit being shut down.

"I would be amazed if (CHA) could tell you what was related directly to ICU," said Zaozirny.

O'Connor said the medflight system has been increasingly busy since January 2001. Since then the number of flights have increased by 49 per cent.

"It's hard to say why we have been so busy from January '01. We just remain busy," she said.

O'Connor says so far Medflight has not had a problem handling the increased volume. She was also unable to speculate at what volume the medflight system would begin to experience difficulty.

Medflight has five staff and three airplanes at its disposal.

Depending on the situation, anywhere from one to two medflight nurses could be on a flight. For more serious cases a physician may also be on the plane.

An average flight to Edmonton ties up an aircraft for nearly eight hours, including patient preparation, loading, unloading, refueling and flight time.

"Patients that have to go out will go out and if there is a delay they are in a hospital that is capable of caring for patients," said O'Connor. "Where it becomes difficult is when we get multiple requests in a day that is when we start triage."

Dr. Andre Corriveau, Chief Medical Officer, says everything is being done to ensure patient safety on flights to southern hospitals and steps are being made to recruit additional staff for Stanton's ICU.

"We're doing everything that is humanly possible...if there is no staff there is no staff," he said. "Even with the ICU open there is a limited time people are kept in ICU and they have to be transferred anyway."