STARS Air Ambulance adds third helicopter crew rotation in Sask. to deal with growing COVID-19 cases

·3 min read
STARS Air Ambulance has brought in a third crew rotation to transfer patients across the province. (Matt Duguid/CBC - image credit)
STARS Air Ambulance has brought in a third crew rotation to transfer patients across the province. (Matt Duguid/CBC - image credit)

A doctor who works with the province's helicopter air ambulance service says it was very important to bring in a third helicopter crew rotation to transport an increasing number of patients across the province.

Dr. Dallas Pearson says STARS Air Ambulance has been very busy transferring patients across the province after a growing number of COVID-19 cases.

As a province, "we're hitting records almost daily," said Pearson, a flight physician with STARS Air Ambulance as well as an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

"And along with that comes as hitting daily records of critical care patients."

STARS brought the third helicopter and crew into service starting Sept. 13 to prevent medical transfers from becoming overwhelmed. Staff members are working extra hours to make sure the shift is staffed.

Dr. Pearson told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning that STARS, along with the fixed-wing Saskatchewan Air Ambulance service, continues to perform its regular duties on top of transferring COVID-19 patients.

As a result, the system has become very busy.

"As you can imagine, COVID doesn't spread itself evenly across the province to make it easy for us," he said.

"So, the need for for an extra care critical care transport crew became necessary as even the transport system was becoming overwhelmed."

Pearson said the added strain of COVID-19 is making a complicated job even more difficult. Many different professionals from different regions are brought in whenever a person is transported on a STARS helicopter, and full hospitals make the system even more complex.

"Sometimes we have to change location mid-flight," he said.

"Because of extraordinary circumstances, those pilots have to be on their game as well to make decisions. This is a huge team effort."

While COVID-19 is making things difficult for the health care system, it's proving even more of a challenge for families. Pearson said it must be very difficult for people in remote communities to be so far away while their loved ones are sick.

"I can't imagine how hard that's going to be for the loved ones to not be immediately at the bedside and not be in the same city," he said.

Meanwhile, Pearson is worried the number of COVID-19 cases in the system will continue to get worse, at least in the short term.

He said it's important to have plans in place to make sure that the system can bear the weight.

"STARS has been working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority to try and carve out some other plans to see how much more we can increase capacity for both critical care patients within the system, as well as our capacity to transport and transfer those critical care patients.

"It's better to have a plan in place and not needed than to have no plan and try to run it last minute."

It's not clear how long the extra crew will be in place.

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