Mid-island communities are the most dominant call areas for air ambulance transports this year. (BC Emergency Health Services/Twitter)

Air ambulance calls on Vancouver Island way down so far in 2020

Only 519 transports from Vancouver Island so far, compared to 1,107 total calls in 2019

A year after a sizable jump in traffic, the number of Air Ambulance calls seems to have returned to normal on Vancouver Island in 2020.

So far, the number of calls from the Island is down this year, with only 519 calls being made during the first eight months of 2020, far behind the pace that resulted in 1,107 calls in 2019.

Based on data provided by BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) 86 of the calls made in 2020 were for medical emergency and 433 were for medical transfer to hospitals.

In 2019, there were 174 medical emergency calls recorded and 933 medical transfers. That number was higher than the trend observed in 2018 ( 643 calls) and 2017 (608 calls).

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“Our busiest times for air ambulance response is at the end of the summer and the bulk of the calls come nearer to the year’s close than the first half of the year. So by the end of this year we could easily see much higher numbers,” said BCEHS spokesperson Shannon Miller.

Troy Clifford, provincial president of the union that represents Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers, said that ambulance dispatchers have observed a decrease in calls this year, possibly because people are staying home.

B.C. paramedics reported in March that 75 per cent of calls to 911 ambulance dispatch were related to suspicions of COVID-19 or other influenza-type symptom.

“With a large chunk of our population in self-isolation at home, ambulance dispatchers say they are receiving fewer calls about car accidents, falls, assaults, and workplace accidents,” said Clifford.

Also, with surgeries being cancelled, there were less calls for transporting patients to hospital, said Clifford.

Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Courtenay, as well as isolated communities, including the Gulf Islands are the most dominant call areas for air ambulances on Vancouver Island.

The Island accounted for 14 per cent of air ambulance transports in B.C in 2019/20, which was also the second lowest in the province.

In B.C., for fiscal year 2019/20, 39 per cent of air ambulance transports were done for Northern Health, followed by 26 percent for Interior Health, 18 per cent for Vancouver-Coastal and two per cent for Fraser Health.

Annually, BCEHS responds to more than 7,000 patients requiring transportation by air ambulance.

Most of the medical response calls are for traumatic injuries, traffic incidents, falls and medical emergencies requiring immediately air ambulance response, said Miller.

About 90 per cent of air ambulance responses are for hospital transfer patients in critical condition.

BCEHS air ambulance program has a fleet of four air ambulance helicopters and six airplanes. It can also avail the services of 30 pre-qualified air carriers province-wide, if needed.

Critical Care Paramedics (the highest level of paramedic care, with a focus on air medical response) are deployed from aircraft bases in Prince George, Kelowna, Kamloops, Nanaimo and Vancouver.

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