Military helicopter called to island for hospital transport

A military helicopter was called to Grand Manan to shuttle a person in medical distress for the second time in less than two months— something the island's mayor says is not a sustainable solution.

Len Hickey, lieutenant commander with the public affairs for the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Halifax, said Ambulance NB requested air assistance to transport an injured patient to the Saint John Regional Hospital around 3:40 p.m. on Feb. 10.

"Provincial assets were unable to take the mission due to weather," he said, which included fog and low visibility.

The helicopter took off from Greenwood, Nova Scotia, he said, landing on the remote island in the Bay of Fundy shortly before 6 p.m.

It's the second time the military helicopter from Nova Scotia has been called to the island for medical emergencies since mid-December, when Transport Canada enforced new rules which reduce flight and duty time limits for pilots, limiting air ambulance services to the remote island. At the time, provincial Health Minister Bruce Fitch said the new rules are “quite difficult” to follow in remote areas like Grand Manan, which has a hard time recruiting pilots.

In the absence of an on-island charter service for emergency situations, the community of about 2,500 is left to rely on services from mainland New Brunswick, which Grand Manan mayor Bonnie Morse says makes people scared and uncertain.

"People always had comfort in the fact that we could access the same healthcare as the rest of New Brunswick, within the same sort of timeline," she said. "For the people on Grand Manan, we need some stability, and some recognition that we have to maintain the same access to healthcare that we’ve always had."

Christianna Williston, spokesperson for Ambulance New Brunswick, said both ANB’s Air Ambulance and Nova Scotia’s EHS LifeFlight were available on Friday when the "high priority transfer request" came through, but confirmed they were unable to make the trip "due to weather limitations which prohibited the use of either plane."

"We are happy to report that the contingency plans that have been put in place for bad weather events such as these have worked as they were intended," she said via email, adding "discussions related to air ambulance needs in Grand Manan are ongoing."

Morse and the island's council previously met with the health minister, Premier Blaine Higgs and Andrea Anderson-Mason, the island's MLA. She said she continues to raise the issue and hopes the situation could change soon, as "we all recognize, having a Cormorant come to the island is not a long-term solution."

Anderson-Mason said the gold standard for the island is an on-island service "ready and available at all times" to fly residents off the island in emergencies.

"Nothing short of that is acceptable," she said.

Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal