Montreal

Lower North Shore health agency buys sturdier stretcher after patients deemed 'too big' for medevac flights

The mayor of Gros-Mécatina, Randy Jones, was waiting to be airlifted to Quebec City for urgent medical attention when a nurse told him, 'I don't know how to tell you this, Mr. Jones, but the medevac plane won't come to get you because you're too big.'

'I got pretty tough skin,' says Gros-Mécatina's mayor, nonetheless shaken by 36-hour ordeal

The mayor of Gros-Mécatina, Randy Jones, had to wait nearly 36 hours before being admitted to hospital in Quebec City because he was told he was 'too big' to be airlifted out. (Julia Page/CBC)

Regional health officials on Quebec's North Shore say all residents who require medical assistance will be able to get on medevac flights from now on.

The news comes after at least two patients were told they could not be airlifted by the region's charter plane service because of they were too heavy.

Randy Jones, the mayor of the small town of Gros-Mecatina on the Lower North Shore, learned about the weight restriction the hard way.

With a long history of heart problems, Jones knew he was in need of medical attention last week when he felt pain in his chest and started losing control of the left side of his body.

After seeking medical attention at the local health clinic, he was sent to the nearby community of Chevery, where the medevac plane that serves the region was to pick him up to transport him to Quebec City's Centre Hospitalier de l'Université Laval for treatment.

Jones said he was waiting for the Beechcraft King Air 200, operated by SkyJet Aviation, when a nurse gave him the message.

"He said to me, 'I don't know how to tell you this, Mr. Jones, but the medevac plane won't come to get you because you're too big.'"

New stretcher systems

Residents in the isolated region rely on air transportation, especially during the winter months, because there is a 470-kilometre stretch of land that is not connected to the rest of the province's roadway.

SkyJet has been operating the medevac service since Feb. 1, 2019.

The local regional health authority, the CISSS de la Côte-Nord, awarded the $4.3-million contract to provide medevac services to the Lower North Shore for the next five years.

Jean-Philippe Comtois, the director of financial resources and logistics with the CISSS, said the situation Jones faced came about because SkyJet's stretchers were not strong enough to support patients over 300 pounds, or about 136 kilograms.

Jones insists, however, he was still able to walk.

SkyJet Airlines will be providing medevac services to Quebec's Lower North Shore region for the next five years. (Marc-Antoine Mageau/Radio-Canada)

Comtois confirmed the same thing happened to at least one other patient since SkyJet took over from PAL Airlines in February.

He said the issue has now been resolved.

"We have a new stretcher on the plane with SkyJet that can carry passengers up to 400 pounds [or 180 kilograms]," Comtois said.

The CISSS has also signed a third-party agreement with Airmedic, whose planes can take on passengers up to 500 pounds (226 kilograms) if SkyJet is unable to attend to them, as can the province's two air ambulance planes.

'Degrading,' and 'hurtful'

Randy Jones welcomed the news that others won't have to go through the ordeal that he did, although he says it shouldn't have happened in the first place.

"Regardless, they didn't see this coming."

As a municipal official, he should have been informed that people who weigh over 300 pounds wouldn't be admitted on medevac flights.

He said it was also short-sighted, given the region's high obesity rates.

According to the latest data by Quebec's Public Health Institute, 45 per cent of residents on the Lower North Shore. are considered obese, compared to 18 per cent for the province as a whole.

Randy Jones was supposed to board a medevac plane at this airport in Chevery, Que., to be flown to Quebec City for urgent medical treatment. He had to wait overnight for an aircraft from Goose Bay, NL, to come and get him. (Jonathan Cox/Radio-Canada)

Jones said this kind of situation should have been flagged.

"It's degrading. It's very hurtful to hear you're going to be refused because you're too big."

Jones ended up spending the night in Chevery before his doctor was able to find a plane from Goose Bay, Labrador to take him to Sept-Îles and then onto Quebec City. In total, it was nearly 36 hours before he was treated for a heart blockage.

"If I had I gotten worse, or if somebody had died because of this — how would they have answered to it then?" he asked.

Jones said the incident was a first for him, even though in the past, he's been heavier than he is now. 

This was also the first time he's had someone take out a measuring tape to check his waistline.

"I'm a big man, and I got a pretty tough skin. But a lot of young people who've got the same problem, they're self-conscious about it."

Comtois said he the CISSS "was not pleased with the delay that happened" but is confident everyone who needs the service will get it from now on.   

SkyJet Airlines did not return CBC's requests for an interview.

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