When Prince George Mayor Simon Yu thinks to the not-so-distant future, he sees considerable growth coming to the city in its role as the service hub for a number of large-scale industrial projects.
“The key thing is we anticipate all the activities after 2025,” Yu said. “We are talking about another big mine 60 kilometres north. We are talking about LNG facilities switching on and we are talking about all the industrial mining activities surrounding Prince George, and these activities will require emergency medevacs. We are not getting less industrial activities, we are getting more.”
On those days when the life of a sick or injured patient depends on them getting the right medical care promptly, Yu says the city has to be prepared by providing a place at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. for an air ambulance helicopter to land.
But there is no hospital helipad in Prince George and medevac helicopters have to land at the airport. Yu says it’s not too late for Northern Health to reconsider its decision to exclude a rooftop helipad from the hospital’s business plan for a new surgical tower.
“This hospital is the regional trauma centre and how do we tie in with our city and region’s 9-1-1 program when this helipad is not there, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. ‘When our firefighters go to put out a fire in this region and people get hurt, what do you want them to do? You want them to go back and forth (from the airport to the hospital)? It might be the difference between life and death.”
Patients brought to the airport from scene calls or inter-facility transfers in the region are loaded into a ground ambulance for the 14.6 kilometre trip to the hospital, which can take anywhere from 15-25 minutes, depending on traffic and weather/road conditions.
Prince George is the only major city in the province which lacks a hospital helipad and Yu says that has to change.
“Emergency hospital acute care is basic for a city to grow,” he said. ”You need certain things to live and if it’s not there we’re sending the wrong signal to the region as well as to all the people who look to Prince George as a place to raise their families."
The province is adding a new fleet of seven Leonardo AW 169 twin-engine medevac helicopters to begin service in the fall, including one in Prince George. It will replace the Bell 412 that B.C. Emergency Health Services has operated at Prince George Airport since December 2021.
“We need to get ready because if there’s a fire near the city, which is going to happen, there are going to be more fires and more emergencies and we need a hospital that can anticipate these things,” said Yu.
It’s expected construction of the new tower won’t begin until July 2025 and Yu says there’s still time before the procurement stage for Northern Health to ultimately decide on how it will incorporate medevac helicopter service to the hospital site.
“If they have a different plan, let us know what that is,” said Yu.