Helipad at Tofino hospital aims to provide quicker care

Sam Laskaris, October 9, 2019

Last summer the Tofino General Hospital regained a helicopter landing pad, after relying on one at the airport for the last eight years. (Island Health photo)

Tofino, BC — 

A functioning helipad is once again operating beside the Tofino General Hospital (TGH).

And that’s good news not only for residents of the west coast district but also for members of various Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, who at some point might need to be airlifted to or from the Tofino hospital.

Transport Canada officials had requested a previous helipad, which was also next to the TGH, be closed back in 2011 because it was deemed in need of improvements. Since then any out-of-town air evacuations required for TGH patients were handled out of the Tofino-Long Beach Airport, almost 20 kilometres away.

“It’s easier when they can leave directly from the hospital,” said Michelle Hanna, TGH’s site director.

In recent years, an average of about 20 people per year had been airlifted by helicopters out of Tofino to other hospitals in the province where they could receive a higher level of care than they could locally. Such trips would take patients to locations such as Vancouver, Victoria or Nanaimo.

Hanna prefers the fact a helipad is now once again right beside the TGH. In recent years, several other possible locations for a Tofino helipad had been considered. But all of those were deemed unsuitable for varying reasons.

The ideal location for the helipad is obviously as close as possible to the hospital.

“What it means for us is that people are able to access a higher level of care in a more timely manner,” she said.

“Tofino can provide stabilizing care for our critically ill patients,” Hanna added. “But time is of the essence.”

The helipad adjacent to the TGH has been used rather frequently since it officially opened this past June. As of the second week of October, 26 patients had already been airlifted from the Tofino hospital to others across the province. The airlifts are conducted by members of B.C. Emergency Health Services.

“It’s certainly exceeded our expectations so far,” Hanna said of the helipad usage, citing the previously aforementioned average of about 20 airlifted patients per year out of Tofino.

The land the helipad is situated on is owned by the Tofino General Hospital Foundation. The helipad project, which cost $845,000, was made possible via a partnership between the foundation as well as Island Health and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional Hospital District.

Island Health provides support services and health care to almost 800,000 people across Vancouver Island.

Besides being the Mayor of Tofino, Josie Osborne is also the chair of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional Hospital District. Osborne is thrilled the Tofino hospital once again has a helipad right beside its facility.

“No one wants to think about needing an emergency trip to a hospital in Victoria or Vancouver, but it’s absolutely essential that we can provide it when necessary,” Osborne said in a news release. “This helipad is a critical piece of infrastructure for the west coast region. And we are grateful to see it completed.”

Ahousaht First Nation Chief Councillor Greg Louie is also pleased to see a working helipad next to the TGH again, even if it is a rare occurrence when a community member would need to be airlifted to Tofino.

“Nonetheless, Ahousaht does appreciate that this service is there,” Louie said, adding perhaps one day a community member already at the Tofino hospital might need to be moved by air to another hospital.

Louie added it is comforting to know the TGH does have a helipad in case one of his community members

“It will be helpful to have this,” he said. “It will be a good service if one of our members needs to be responded to quickly.”