Yukon's air ambulance service has new equipment and a retrofitted plane to transport a growing number of bariatric patients. Alkan Air has installed a larger door in a King Air 350 aircraft, and the Yukon government has purchased a mechanical lift.

Bariatric patients can be a challenge for Yukon's medical transport planes, which carry people on a narrow stretcher in a confined space.

The medical definition of a bariatric patient is someone with a weight of at least 350 pounds and a minimum width of 24 inches.

Jeff Simons

Though instances are few, Jeff Simons says bariatric patients are sometimes too large for Yukon's air ambulances. (CBC)

In 2010, there were only five bariatric medevacs in the territory, says Jeff Simons, acting director of Emergency Medical Services Yukon. He says the number is rising.

"Since January of this year we've done nine, so it gives you an idea of the scope we are talking about. We've been tracking this sub-specialty and the need for equipment for a number of years," he says.

Planes called from Alberta or B.C.

Currently Yukon's bariatric patients are transported using specially-designed planes from Alberta or British Columbia. However, those planes aren't able to land in many small communities. In those cases Yukon emergency services uses a local Hawker Siddeley cargo aircraft with the seats removed.

Simons says the new equipment will save money because the territory will be less reliant on crews and aircraft from outside Yukon.

"But this wasn't a price-driven or financial decision," Simons says. "This was about providing the patient care that was required." 

The bariatric medevac aircraft should start transporting patients later this spring after crews are trained to use to the new equipment.