New medical helicopter improves safety, travel time

Ottawa is now home to one of the newest, most state-of-the-art rescue helicopters in the province after medical transport company Ornge began transporting injured and critically ill patients in the new AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter on May 7.

The helicopter is owned and operated by Ornge, a private company contracted by the Ontario ministry of health to provide the province‘s medical transport services. There are currently seven bases across the province operating eight medical helicopters, with the extra vehicle working out of Toronto. Ottawa is the third base to receive a new model after Sudbury and London, and chief operations officer Tom Lepine said the difference is palpable.

“From an aviation perspective, it gives us a much greater launch reliability. We can accept patients under a much wider variety of conditions, and we can fly further in it”,‖ he said, “noting that the base‘s previous helicopter was 25 years old and didn‘t have the power to lift off in extreme weather like the new model”.

On the medical side, the new transport helicopter is state-of-the-art in its safety features that protect both the patient and the paramedics travelling with them. For example, seats that swivel and slide through the helicopter‘s cabin allow paramedics to treat patients effectively without having to stand or unbuckle their seatbelts.

Marcie Beaudoin, an Ottawa rotor wing paramedic since 2002, said other key upgrades and improvements include a much larger space for treating the patient in general, as well as a swivel feature on the stretcher that allows paramedics to move the patient into various positions so the paramedics can better attend to the patient‘s needs. The stretcher also has a lift and lower mechanism that will “greatly extend our career,” Beaudoin said, because transport paramedics won‘t have to lift heavy patients nearly as much.

About 28 people have already been transported in the new helicopter since it came online on May 7. Beaudoin said the paramedics are still learning the ropes of the new equipment, but it will offer a huge improvement.

“We‘re a little bit slower right now just because it‘s new. That‘s the same with any new piece of equipment. But once we get accustomed to this it‘s going to be very fast and very sleek, and it allows us to be completely self-sufficient out of hospital,‘ she explained.

The helicopter is self-sufficient since the stretcher can be placed directly onto its own set of wheels to transfer a patient from the helicopter to the hospital room, which frees up ambulances and ambulance equipment at the hospital for other patients, she said. It can also be loaded onto a plane, or onto another stretcher entirely.

The approximately $12 million aircraft – outfitted with another $400,000 worth of medical equipment – is beneficial because of timing and speed, Beaudoin said, with the helicopter being able to travel as fast as 300 kilometres per hour. It can also touch down in places where other ambulances can‘t get to, such as the middle of Algonquin Park, she said.

The Ottawa base covers all of Eastern Ontario, including Algonquin Park, as far Northwest as Mattawa and as far east as Hawkesbury, with everything from Cornwall to Pembroke to Kingston in between, said operations manager Jeff Carss. – Emma Jackson

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