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New air ambulances are taking flight in B.C.

June 7, 2024 at 11:49 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

Founded in 1990, Carson Air is the primary provider of fixed-wing airplane services in B.C. The company also provides air cargo services and operates a flight school. These services are collectively provided from its five bases of operations in Kelowna, Vancouver, Calgary, Prince George and Fort St John.

BCEHS has been working with key partners on an aviation fleet renewal program to upgrade and replace the existing air ambulances. Carson Air became the sole provider of air ambulance airplane service in B.C. as of May 1, 2024.

Carson Air was selected after a procurement process, which involved an in-depth evaluation with BCEHS staff, industry and subject matter experts, external legal fairness advisers and Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) procurement staff.

Features of the new Beechcraft King Air 360CHW air ambulance airplanes compared to the previous fleet include:

  • The ability to land on gravel runways – air ambulance airplanes can land and take off in more communities, increasing health-care access for Indigenous, northern, and rural and remote communities.
  • Significantly expanded capabilities for specialized care – all 12 airplanes in the BCEHS fleet will be able to carry patients with highly-specialized medical needs, including patients requiring life support. They will be able to support:
    • patients using extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a form of life support that that does the work of the heart and lungs for patients who are critically ill (currently only 50% of B.C.’s air ambulance airplanes can support ECMO).
    • neonatal patients in biomedical neonatal transport incubators, the gold standard, which are an improvement over the smaller incubators the infant transport team currently use on the air ambulance airplanes.
    • bariatric patients (only one of the current airplanes can support these patients and in a day-time flight only configuration).
    • patients in EpiShuttles, a mobile medical isolation unit used for patients with certain infectious diseases (only one of the current airplanes can support these patients and in a day-time flight only configuration).
  • Improved patient and paramedic safety through power stretcher compatibility – Paramedics will be able to load the power stretchers from ground ambulances directly onto the air ambulance airplane, eliminating the need to transfer patients from stretcher to stretcher.
  • Streamlined uniform layout and design, improving outcomes and expanding flight crews – All the airplanes will have the same layout, with vital supplies stored in the same place in every aircraft. This will make it easier to train paramedics to work on the airplanes and expand the number of paramedics at all levels who can serve aboard the aircraft alongside highly trained critical-care paramedics and infant transport team paramedics.
  • State-of-the-art aircraft with modern avionics technology – Other features of the new airplanes include:
    • more powerful engines with heavy-lift capacity and improved pressurization;
    • large (132 by 124 centimetres) electrically controlled cabin door improves patient loading, while the spacious cabin ensures full access to the patient, including four cabin seats;
    • latest generation avionics glass cockpit with enhanced vision systems providing exceptional situational awareness; and
    • connected cabin allows for future Wi-Fi capabilities to allow paramedics to view status of oxygen flow and capacity, power and controllable lighting via LCD displays.

Air ambulance airplanes come specially equipped in the same level as an intensive-care ward and can be adjusted to accommodate the patient’s needs. BCEHS air ambulances are typically staffed by critical-care paramedics, who have advanced training to provide the highest level of specialized care with a focus on acute interfacility transport, air medical response, and infant, child and perinatal care.

In certain circumstances, doctors and other medical personnel may also accompany patients on air ambulances. Air ambulance airplanes are the first choice in cases that require urgent transfer of patients or when the travel distance is long.

BCEHS is the largest paramedic and ambulance service in the country and is supported by the PHSA. It provides provincial emergency-call taking, dispatch and paramedic health-care services under the Emergency Health Services Act to all people in British Columbia.

It is also responsible for the planning and co-ordination of interfacility patient transfers that require paramedic care, as well as the community paramedicine program, which provides scheduled care to patients living with chronic health conditions in remote and rural communities across British Columbia.

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