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Editorial: North-central B.C. has much greater health care needs than a Prince George hospital helipad

The greatest need in Northern Health is more healthcare professionals based in more communities across the region.
Close up of a helipad

The planned expansion of University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George will have the region’s first cardiac unit, as well as expanded mental health/addictions treatment and surgical capacity.

What it won’t have is a rooftop landing pad for helicopters to more quickly transfer patients brought from other healthcare facilities or accident scenes.

And that’s a good thing.

Prince George is the only major city in B.C. that lacks a facility to land helicopters at its hospital.

So what?

“Everybody else has a helipad so we should have one to” isn’t a business case.

Prince George hasn’t had an on-site hospital helipad since the one in the northeast parking lot was built over for lack of use during a 2003 expansion for a new emergency ward.

Has the lack of a helipad been missed much in the last 20 years?

Not really.

And wouldn’t most local and area residents prefer the cost of a rooftop helipad to go towards faster care in emergency wards and more hospital beds instead?

The vast majority of patients flown into the Prince George airport by air ambulance and then transferred to UHNBC by ground ambulance are transfers from other hospitals and health centres in central and northern B.C. Those patients are stable enough to travel for additional care in Prince George. An hour or two in an air ambulance sure beats six or more hours in a ground ambulance on a bumpy, windy regional highway.

Having a hospital helipad would further shorten that journey by the 20 to 30 minutes it takes to transfer an air ambulance patient from the Prince George airport to UHNBC.

But does that time saving really matter?

The most important time for the seriously injured victim of a highway crash or an accident in a remote, isolated community or workplace in north-central B.C. are in the first minutes. Industrial first aid at the scene and emergency care at a smaller hospital and health centre to stabilize a patient are the critical life-and-death moments.

The length of time it takes to move them to Prince George or Vancouver? Not so much.

The greatest need in Northern Health is more healthcare professionals based in more communities across the region.

That would save more lives and improve health outcomes far more than a helipad on top of the hospital in Prince George ever could.

Neil Godbout is the Citizen’s editor.