Grounded no more

Leftover emergency room upgrade cash will put helipad back in action.

  • Aug. 9, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Good news abounds for those who have pushed for the closed helipad at the Invermere and District Hospital to upgrade and re-open.

The Interior Health Authority has received the green light from the Ministry of Health and the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District to use $300,000 in surplus funding to move forward with the necessary upgrades to the Invermere helipad. The surplus funds were from the Invermere and District Hospital’s emergency room redevelopment project.

At the moment, planning and design are still in the works for the first phase of the helipad’s upgrades.

Helipad operations ceased in June 2010, when Transport Canada issued a Notice of Suspension after discovering several deficiencies with the helipad during inspection.

Issues that led to the helipad’s closure included flight path obstacles, as well as ground slope and above-ground oxygen tanks that were non-compliant with Transport Canada standards. Signage and fencing were also noted as problem areas.

Now, however, Interior Health will be working to plan a detailed and up-to-date outline of upgrade work needed to meet Transport Canada’s requirements for certification, and comply with the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society’s (STARS) landings.

“I am very pleased to see this project get underway,” said Health Minister Michael de Jong in an official release. “Moving forward with this project reflects our commitment to look at the provision of health services through a rural lens so that all patients, whether they need to be transported by ground or air, have timely access to the best care possible.”

“The hospital district board encouraged using the surplus funds from the Invermere ER project as it saw the heliport as a key piece in emergency medical treatment in the Columbia Valley,” said John Kettle, board chair.

“The board would like to thank Minister de Jong for approving the use of these funds and Interior Health for moving forward with the project in such a timely manner.”

The future of the Invermere helipad has weighed heavily on some concerned residents, service groups and the District itself. However, this new announcement of progress may finally put those worries to rest.

“It’s definitely good news, it’s something we’ve been trying to have happen since its closure in June,” said District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft. “We’ve been working really hard, lobbying as many people as possible for this issue. The Invermere council has been working with directors from the hospital board, provincial government representatives and the Ministry of Health.”

However, Taft went on to say that this news was by no means the work of just a few individuals alone.

“There are a lot of people who worked on this, and not one person who can take credit,” said Taft. “There was a cross-section of the community who supported it as well.”

Other groups who pitched in to support the helipad include the Lake Windermere Lions Club, which announced this year that their next fundraising project would be for the helipad upgrades, with proceeds from their recent Lions Charity Golf Day going towards the closed site.

“Altogether, everything seems to have worked out, I’m very happy that they are going forward with this,” said Taft.