Nova Scotia could replace LifeFlight contractor

A LifeFlight helicopter drops off a patient in Point Pleasant Park, in Halifax. The patient was then transported to hospital by ambulance.
A LifeFlight helicopter drops off a patient in Point Pleasant Park, in Halifax. The patient was then transported to hospital by ambulance. Ross Lord/Global News

Nova Scotia is considering ditching the current helicopter provider for its air ambulance service, says Health Minister Leo Glavine.

The service was forced to stop landing on hospital helipads in April following an audit from Transport Canada. The regulator told Canadian Helicopters, which provides the helicopter, that it doesn’t meet the standards necessary to land on helipads in densely populated areas.

Transport Canada changed the regulations for the Sikorsky S-76A helicopter in 2007. Canadian Helicopters says while it didn’t meet the letter of the regulation, it was told by Transport Canada during its yearly audits that the helicopter met the intent of the regulations.

READ MORE: LifeFlight helicopter company knew in 2007 that regulations changed

Glavine says he was never told that the helicopter was operating under special circumstances. He says he first heard about the non-compliance on April 1, 2016.

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Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie says the lack of information on how this was allowed to happen is “unacceptable.”

“Somebody has to be held accountable for the lack of LifeFlight service, and that person is the minister of health.” Baillie said.

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When the 2007 regulations were brought into force, no helicopters in Canada met the standard. However other provinces have already phased out the same Sikorsky model for air ambulance services. For example, Ontario switched to another helicopter three years ago.

Contract can be cancelled with 90 days notice

Glavine says staff are reviewing the role of the health department, Emergency Health Services, Transport Canada, and Canadian Helicopters.

“We need to review what has gone on, why it took place as it did,” Glavine says.

He wants to know if the contract needs to be written differently so that department staff are informed about the helicopter’s compliance with regulations. He says he’s checked back with previous health ministers from the former NDP and Progressive Conservative governments and they all say they had no knowledge of what was going on.

“This gives us the opportunity to take a look at the contract and maybe at the end of the day we will have a different provider,” Glavine says.

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The contract with Canadian Helicopters can be cancelled at any time as long as either party gives 90 days notice. The company has been the only provider for LifeFlight since it started 20 years ago; the company’s contract costs $3.6 million per year.

Nova Scotia is on the hunt for a new helicopter that will meet Transport Canada regulations. It’s expected to take between six and nine months to secure a helicopter and get staff fully trained on the equipment.

The emergency helicopter flies critically ill patients to helipads at hospitals in Halifax and Digby, N.S. The flights now land at certified helipads and patients are brought to hospital by ground ambulance.

With files from The Canadian Press

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