Invermere helipad still a grounded issue

The future of the Invermere District Hospital's closed helipad still appears to be murky.

  • May. 10, 2011 9:00 a.m.

A Kootenay East Regional Hospital District Board meeting took place on May 6, following the Regional District of East Kootenay meeting. Two representatives from Interior Health (IH) were present to give updates on several helipad sites, including the long-closed helipad at the Invermere District Hospital.

The Invermere helipad still remains closed to landings at this time, according to the official report.

IH is still walking through an request for proposal process for new residential beds for the Columbia Garden Village and a final decision cannot be made on the helipad’s situation until the RFP process is complete.

The new residential beds’ building is being built on land that could impact the flight path.

This news concerned District of Invermere (DOI) Mayor Gerry Taft, who was present for the May 6 meeting.

“The land which that building was located on, was sold by IH to the private entities which developed the Columbia Gardens seniors housing complex,” said Taft. “As far as I know, at the time that the land was sold by IH there was never any consideration regarding the potential for impact to flight paths and helicopter services.”

IH has issued an RFP for private and non-profit entities to construct and operate the much-needed 34 long-term care beds which are still slated to be built in Invermere.

Taft explained that the most likely entity to submit a proposal, and the most likely location, was on the vacant land beside the Columbia Garden Village – the land that may obscure the helipad flight path.

“I am concerned that there is even a question or even the potential that IH could fund a capital program that would further restrict the flight path and potentially cause the permanent closure of the heliport – especially considering the potential that IH could build and operate the 34 beds themselves by expanding the existing Columbia House facility to the north of the hospital,” said Taft.

Taft also raised the question of IH’s priorities during the meeting, as there was some concern that IH was placing more priority on helipads that brought patients into a facility for treatment rather than out, while the Invermere District Hospital had a historical record of moving patients out to other facilities for care.

“During meetings that I and members of DOI council had with IH President and CEO Dr. Halpenny, and board chair Norman Embree, during the Union of British Columbia Municipalities meetings in Whistler last September, there was mention of the volume of patients being brought into hospitals such as the East Kootenay Regional Hospital and the impression was left that these hospitals would be the first priority of IH for helipad upgrades,” said Taft.

Taft had concluded at the meeting with the comment that patients being sent out are just as important as those coming in.

Unfortunately, at this time the DOI is waiting for the results of the RFP process.

IH and STARS have formed a contingency plan in the meantime that uses the Invermere District Hospital airport for helicopter landings and departures, and ground ambulances to move patients from the hospital to the airport.