St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan had good reason to celebrate on September 21, as the STARS Air Ambulance made its first landing on the hospital's new helipad.
The landing came three days after the hospital received certification from Transport Canada for the helipad, which is located at the west edge of the hospital's property. It's the first hospital helipad to be completed and certified in Saskatchewan.
Representatives of STARS, the hospital, the Sun Country Health Region, the local health committee and the businesses and organizations that supported the helipad's construction were on hand for the helicopter landing and a ceremony that followed.
“A lot of work went into this, from the early days, trying to figure out how we're going to turn a 12-foot deep detention pond, which is what this was, into an eight-foot landing pad,” said hospital executive director Greg Hoffort.
Contractors stepped forward with work-in kind support, and the Rotary Club of Estevan donated $20,000 to meet the community fundraising component. Estevan's helipad has been able to proceed, while others in the province have been shelved, because it had all the requisite money in place.
“It's almost not a surprise what we can accomplish in our community that leads the way in so many areas,” said Hoffort. “Our community comes to the forefront time and time again to bring the essential services, whether that's regarding health care or recreation or sporting facilities, this community is truly second-to-none.”
In order to receive certification, Hoffort said the hospital needed the helipad ready for emergency landings. It's a strategic and detailed process, from the slope of the helipad to the height of the lights to the peripheral challenges.
“The number of details that go into this are immense,” said Hoffort.
Hoffort said that the value of the STARS service, and a helipad, is reflected in expressions like "Time is life" from the hospital employees.
“The folks that come in this helicopter are some of the top-trained trauma experts you will ever find,” said Hoffort. “It's a service they provide. It's not only that they turn a two-hour ambulance ride into a 45-minute transfer to the Regina General Hospital, the training and the trauma expertise that they bring to us are phenomenal.”
St. Joseph's employees are exceptional at getting ready for a STARS transfer, too, Hoffort said.
Pilot Clark Jule, who flew the helicopter to Estevan, said the helipad is as nice as any he saw during his training in Alberta.
“It will certainly increase the efficiency and the safety of the transfers back to Regina,” said Jule.
The STARS Air Ambulance has been landing in the Estevan area for more than a year. They have had 20 landings in Estevan, just over 100 in the Sun Country Health Region and about 530 in Saskatchewan.
Before the helipad was built, STARS crews would have to land in the field to the west of the hospital, run across to the hospital, and then transport the patient back to the helicopter for the trip to Regina.
“We're this much closer to the hospital,” said Jule. “It allows us to transport the patient in more comfort and efficiency.”
Local police and fire crews would also have to respond to every call for a STARS landing and provide assistance, Hoffort said, and now they won't necessarily have to respond when the STARS helicopter lands in Estevan.