Jim Thompson, Director of Saskatchewan Air Ambulance: Improvements to Moosomin Airport ‘absolutely critical’

World Spectator LogoSaskatchewan Air Ambulance loading on Airport apron

October 29, 2018
Kevin Weedmark

Jim Thompson, the director of the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance, says that improvements to Moosomin’s airport are “absolutely critical” to provide air ambulance coverage to southeast Saskatchewan.

A group is currently trying to raise funds from local muncipalities to pay for improvements to the airport in order to make it usable for the Air Ambulance, now that stroke patients and pediatric patients all need to be taken to Saskatoon rather than Regina.

Following is the complete interview with Jim Thompson.

Currently can the air ambulance come to Moosomin?
Because the runway itself doesn’t have runway lights and it’s also a gravel runway that has some low spots that are susceptible to rain and softness, we use Virden­—which as you know is a little ways down the road—to facilitate getting people out of not just Moosomin but that area of the province.

The runway can be used, but as you can imagine, if it rains on a Sunday night and then we’re asked to do a trip first thing on a Monday morning it’s very difficult or has been very difficult for us to determine whether the runway surface condition is firm enough for us to land.

Also, as the days get shorter in the winter it is hard for us to commit to getting in and getting out before darkness, so to avoid delaying transport we literally have to rely on going to Virden which I think is the closest facility that we can utilize during more diverse weather conditions.

How often would the air ambulance make runs out this way if you had a runway you could use in all weather, day or night?
Are you familiar with the movie Field of Dreams? If you build it we will come.

In the past, there was a minesite down in that part of the country that had a very nice runway and so a lot of access into the eastern part of the province would go through that runway.

Now that runway has been decommissioned, which has left a void which needs to be addressed.

I’m more familiar with STARS. You don’t hear as much about the Air Ambulance. Can you give me the idea of the size of operation the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance runs? How many patients do you transport in a year?
Saskatchewan Air Ambulance was started by the premier of the day, Tommy Douglas, after World War II.

1946 is when the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance was started. It’s a government entity, which means that we don’t do a whole bunch of publicizing. We don’t spend taxpayers’ money to advertise what we do. We just go and do it.

We typically transport 1,500 patients a year which is on average about five patients a day. We operate 365 days a year, 24/7. We usually don’t get dispatched unless it is something that is critical—motor vehicle accidents, heart attacks, strokes, burn victims, people needing to get to the tertiary care centres in Regina and Saskatoon, but if we also need to get to specialists outside the province then we’ll be taking the critically ill patient out of the major hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon to a facility out of province. We tend to do quite a few of those.

With the pediatrics centralized in Saskatoon, we are the first mode of air transport for the pediatric teams and the neonatal teams out of Regina and Saskatoon. Anyone who is really sick who’s extremely young or extremely old or in between, we’re taking them.

Also with the stroke protocol now only being provided out of Saskatoon, anyone who has had a stroke in the province who needs intervention treatment will be transported to Saskatoon, so we become part of that model as well.

Are your aircrafts based out of Saskatoon, or Saskatoon and Regina?
The program originally started back in 1946 in Regina. It was moved to Saskatoon in 1993 and all the air craft are based out of Saskatoon, but it literally takes us 35 minutes to get to Regina.

From this area how long does it take a patient to get to Regina or Saskatoon?
Saskatoon to Moosomin Airport is 56 minutes. Regina to Moosomin Airport is 35 minutes.

In your opinion how important is it to have an upgraded runway here in Moosomin?
To get access to the eastern part of the province along north and south of Highway #1, I think it is absolutely critical to find a community that will support a runway that is long enough, is maintained seasonally, can be used day and night.

It’s not just for Saskatchewan Air Ambulance, it is also for people who want to do business in the community and it’s also for other essential services like the RCMP getting their people into the area as soon as possible. From an essential services point of view and from support from the businesses, I think if someone is successful that would be fantastic for that part of the province.

Have you had some discussions with the local folks who are trying to get this going?
Four years ago we were in the community with STARS and we were talking to the mayor and some of the council people about how STARS and how Saskatchewan Air Ambulance would work to support that part of the province.

I know that STARS actually does go into the community quite often out of Regina, and what that model doesn’t support is the specialty teams that have to come out of Saskatoon and the speed at which we can get there.

We tend to be twice as fast as a helicopter and we don’t have the same fuel restrictions that the other folks do.

If we had a place where we could get in and get out, that would be great.

The folks that are working right now, I’ve had some conversations with them as well.

Jeff St. Onge has been very proactive in trying to facilitate this.

Personally, from a personal viewpoint, not necessarily wearing the hat of Director of Saskatchewan Air Ambulance, I think the community would benefit a lot from successful revitalization of the airport.

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