Pad safer for patients

Taking off....Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Graeme Gale, for mer Church of the Blessed Sacrament parish priest Father Damian Wynn-Williams, St Mary’s School principal Annie Nelson and Otago Regional Rescue Heli copter intensive care paramedic Doug Flett stand in front of the site for a new helipad on the school’s court which is about a 100m from Gore Hospital. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

A new helipad at St Mary’s School will chop down the time it takes to airlift critically ill patients from Gore to specialist care.

The helipad will be located on the concrete court at the south end of the playground, about 100m from Gore Hospital.

The Gore A&P Showgrounds have been used as the landing site ever since Seddon Memorial Hospital closed in 1999.

After the rescue helicopter landed at the showgrounds, the specialist team on board were taken by ambulance to Gore Hospital, 1.2km away, where they prepared the patient to be flown to Dunedin.

An ambulance then took the patient and staff back to the helicopter for the return light.

Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Graeme Gale said it would be “fantastic” to be able to land within walking distance of the hospital.

“We can land there, offload our crew, they go into the hospital, package the patient up, straight in the helicopter, go, so it’s a very big deal, the difference it will make,” Mr Gale said.

While St John had been very helpful in making sure an ambulance was always available, there might come a day when the town’s three ambulances were all out on calls.

“Sooner or later we’re going to get caught out to the detriment of the patient, and we can’t afford that.”

The amount of time it took to land at the showgrounds, gather the patient and then take off again was about the same time as the 20-25 minutes of flight time to Dunedin.

“I’d rather have the patient in Dunedin than muck around with the risk of having to get an ambulance.”

As well as the distance from the hospital there were other issues including events using the showgrounds at times when the landing site was needed, how wet the grounds were in winter, and lighting up the area, all of which made the showgrounds an unsuitable place to land.

“Make no bones about it, the showgrounds have been a pain in the backside.”

The helicopter made between eight and 15 visits to Gore each year.

Many of the helicopter callouts were at times outside school hours and he expected little disruption to the school’s pupils.

“The benefits to the patients absolutely outweigh any downside for us coming into the school.”

Gore Hospital chief executive Karl Metzler said it was good news another landing site had been found as it often took longer for the intensive care staff to collect patients and load them back on to the helicopter than the time it took to fly between Gore and Dunedin.

“That’s eating into that golden hour that we talk about for that life-preserving care,Mr Metzler said.

The neighbours had also been very understanding to allow the helipad to be placed at the school, he said.

It was expected the helipad would be ready for use in about a month.

St Mary’s School principal Annie Nelson said she was very pleased the school could provide a place for the helicopter to land.

“Anything that extends people’s lives is everybody’s responsibility to help,” Mrs Nelson said.

The school had many guidelines for what to do in circumstances where pupils’ safety could be compromised and now had one for what to do if a helicopter needed to land on the grounds.

“The health and safety of our children is paramount.”

The project to find another landing site had been ongoing for many years.

In 2010 The Ensign reported the Gore District Council declined a resource consent application lodged by the Southern Region Lions Air Ambulance Trust to build a helipad at Gore Hospital.

The trust planned to build a 22m-square landing pad in an area of garden at the hospital.

The trust which had supported the air ambulance service for about 20 years was wound up in 2009.

Former chairman Peter Gibson said he was very pleased to hear a new site had been found for the helipad.

“I’m delighted at long last the level of patient care will not be diminished by a transfer by road down to the showgrounds.”