New hospital’s helipad deficient, council learns

City council is refusing to accept that the new hospital’s helipad may not be able to accept single engine helicopters.

Coun. Larry Samson said he wants the city to investigate what can be done to ensure the helipad is in compliance.

He said with Campbell River being a regional forestry centre, it’s vital that all aircraft that serve that industry be able to land at the hospital in the event of a medical emergency.

“Single engine helicopters play a large part in our coastal areas, we’re also the regional centre for all the outlying islands which makes it even more important at our hospital that we have the ability to accept single engine helicopters,” Samson said. “It was said that helicopters can land where they want to land but if they’re not approved, what onus are we putting on these pilots flying these aircrafts, these helicopters?”

Val Wilson, spokesperson for Island Health, said Transport Canada safety standards do not allow single-engine helicopters to land at rooftop hospital heliports – which is where the heliport will be located at the new Campbell River Hospital.

“Hospital heliports are classified as ‘obstacle’ landing sites because of their proximity to trees, buildings, residential areas and other potential helicopter flightpath obstacles,” Wilson said. “This means that they require more than one engine to handle flight emergency situations, such as an engine failure.”

Wilson said BC Air Ambulance helicopters meet that classification and both the Campbell River and Comox Valley hospitals are “expected to receive certification from Transport Canada once the new hospitals are complete.”

Still, Coun. Charlie Cornfield said council needs to step up and ensure that happens.

“I think we need some expertise to come back and say ‘here is what we can do’.  It’s the old, ‘we won’t give them approval until the project is built,’” Cornfield said.

Samson said the city’s airport manager is already planning a trip to Ottawa in February and suggested he could speak to the federal transportation minister.

With the exception of Mayor Andy Adams, the rest of council agreed, and voted in favour of having the Airport Authority investigate and report back to council, as well as spending up to $5,000 from council contingency to determine Transport Canada’s requirements for single engine helicopters.

Adams was opposed because he said he would rather see money allocated once council knows how much is actually required to get the job done.

“I really appreciate the intent of the motion (but) we have never done a motion, unless it’s for consulting fees, to allocate funds for a staff report which is essentially what this is,” Adams said. “I have no problem in some of the things Councillor Samson said in that if the Airport Authority identifies some expenses, then come back through a staff report to council but to just put an amount out there that we don’t know or know what for, I think is irresponsible.”

The new hospital, and helipad, is currently under construction next to the existing hospital and is expected to be completed by late 2017.

The 95-bed Campbell River Hospital is costing Island Health $274.5 million and is being built in tandem with a new 153-bed hospital in the Comox Valley, valued at $331.7 million.