Ornge wants improved access to northern communities
First Nations deputy grand chief says there are delays in aircraft not being able to get in because of weather
The Nishnawbe Aski Nation is welcoming recommendations for improvements to the Ornge air ambulance system after the province's Chief Coroner released a report Monday on how operational changes could have helped prevent eight deaths — most of them in northern Ontario.
But NAN said there's more to be done.
Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said remote First Nations rely on Ornge if they have a medical emergency.
"I mean that's basically the lifeline … when people are in distress," he said.
According to the Coroner's report, about 60 per cent of the air ambulance's calls for service are in northern Ontario.
Ornge president and CEO Dr. Andrew McCallum said it's a region where the report's recommendations for improved communication and organization are especially important.
"In the north ... the integration of transport into the health care delivery system is so critical," he said. "We want to continue to work on the areas [where] we still have progress to make."
McCallum said that includes better coordination across the emergency medical system when moving critically-ill patients.
"In a small place like ... Geraldton or Hornepayne in the north, the physician there ... usually hasn't got a huge number of staff to assist her," he said. "The last thing she needs to do is have to make five or six calls to arrange to get a patient to where they need to be."
Making 'communities more reachable'
Fiddler also pointed out an issue that's not covered in the report:
"The capacity for the community airstrips to be able to accommodate aircraft in difficult weather," he said. "We hear concerns from our communities about delays in aircraft not being able to get in."
McCallum said that's a concern the air ambulance service shares.
"I couldn't agree more with the deputy grand chief's comments," he told CBC News. "We're looking at better landing facilities, better lighting. A whole bunch of initiatives that I think would make those communities more reachable."
McCallum said automatic weather observation stations are being installed in some remote communities and Ornge is working with some of First Nations to offer training on weather reporting for incoming pilots.
The coroner's report looks at Ornge cases as far back as 2006, but McCallum noted some of the recommendations have already been implemented since then.
"I'm heartened to know that we're on the right track," he said, but added there's more work to be done.
Prior to becoming Ornge's new CEO, McCallum was Ontario's chief coroner. While in that role, he ordered the review of the air ambulance service last year.