Gary Martin often watches air ambulance helicopters flying over his farm in southern Lambton County on their way to and from the helipad at the Wallaceburg hospital he and his family uses when they need health care.
On Friday, the president of the Lambton Federation of Agriculture and others with the organization delivered a $5,000 donation for the air ambulance landing and takeoff helipad under construction at Bluewater Health in Sarnia.
The donation was by both the Lambton and the Ontario federations.
When a member suggested the donation – a shared gift from the Lambton and Ontario federations – Martin remembered saying, “What – Bluewater Health doesn’t have a helipad yet?”
Martin said the local federation decided to support this good cause and, through the group’s provincial organization, embraced the opportunity to double the amount of the donation.
There are 134 hospitals in Ontario that already have a helipad, said Laurie Zimmer, vice-president of clinical services for Bluewater Health.
“This is a huge success for us and really completes our service delivery for the community,” she said.
Sarnia’s helipad is being built on land where a running track and playing field sat next to a former high school site on East Street that was acquired by the nearby hospital.
Concrete has been poured, a 125-metre walkway to the hospital is in place, fencing is up and shrubs have been planted as part of the approximately $900,000 construction project that began in June.
It’s expected to be completed in late August or early September, Zimmer said.
“We’re about three weeks behind with it just because we’re just waiting on some supplies,” including specialized lighting, she said.
Once the work is completed, the hospital will be able to apply for Transport Canada certification to use the helipad to transport patients to and from other hospitals, including those in nearby London.
Certification can take six to eight weeks, Zimmer said.
“It really does provide timelier access to critical-care patients,” she said.
It can take 45 minutes to an hour for an ambulance to drive to London’s hospitals, compared to 20 minutes by air ambulance, Zimmer said.
As well as better outcomes for patients, greater use of air ambulances will allow Bluewater Health nurses and other health-care staff who currently accompany patients travelling by ambulance to remain at the Sarnia hospital and be available to help patients there, she said.
Ornge air ambulances have their own medical equipment and critical-care team to care for patients while they’re being transferred, Zimmer said.
Ambulance crews currently handling out-of-town transfers will also now be available for other calls in the community.
Zimmer said the hospital currently transfers patients four to five times a week, but that number could grow once the helipad is open and providing access to Ornge air ambulance service.
“Once you build it, they will come,” she said.
Previously, patients from the Sarnia hospital would have to be transferred to the local airport by ambulance to reach Ornge helicopters.
Lambton County contributed $400,000 for the helipad project.
So far, just more than 60 per cent of the funding goal of nearly $1 million for the project has been raised, said Kathy Alexander, executive director of the Bluewater Health Foundation.
She thanked the two federations, the county and other donors.
“We’re really excited with that progress so far, but we still need the community to come together and help us build and to open this helipad that will really save lives and make a difference for so many in our community,” Alexander said.
The Sarnia Observer