'The bar has been raised': NWT air ambulances get international safety accreditation

The Northwest Territories air ambulances are now accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, a group of non-profit organizations dedicated to improving medical transportation services.

‘What you’re going to see is friendly, knowledgeable staff that have more tools,’ says flight paramedic

One of Air Tindi's medevacs planes is shown in Yellowknife. The territory's medevacs are now accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transportation Systems. (Jamie Malbeuf.CBC)

The Northwest Territories' air ambulance services recently received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, a group of non-profit organizations dedicated to improving medical transportation services.  

The air ambulances in the territory are run by ACCESS, a partnership between Aklak Air, Air Tindi Ltd., and Advanced Medical Solutions.

Getting this new accreditation was part of the agreement between the territorial government and ACCESS when they signed a contract in 2015. It took two and a half years for ACCESS to get the accreditation.

"The bar has been raised," said Sean Ivens, president and CEO of Advanced Medical Solutions. "This is the highest achievable bar in North America."

"It's very much a demonstration to the people of the Northwest Territories that the government and the contract companies that are involved in this have made the highest commitment that we can," said Ivens.

Sean Ivens, president and CEO of Advanced Medical Solutions, says the government and contract companies worked together to bring 'optimal patient care.' (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

He said this is one of only three air ambulance services in Canada with this status. It focuses on quality assurance, medical standards, safety and staff education.

Ivens said they had to rewrite policies and procedures for different areas, including medical, aviation, and dispatch to get this level of accreditation. 

"We're collectively working as one unit and the ultimate outcome of that is to achieve optimal patient care."

Mannequins for medical simulations

He pointed to the development of a medical simulation lab in Yellowknife in 2015 as an example. It can also be moved around the territory to bring the training elsewhere.

The lab includes different mannequins that can simulate "anything the body does." The mannequins include an adult male, a pregnant female with complications, a toddler, a pediatric mannequin, and a neonatal mannequin.

Rob Jones, left, demonstrates how to intubate the adult male mannequin. (Jamie Malbeuf.CBC)

A matter of 'tweaking'

Rob Jones, a critical flight care paramedic, has been working on the territory's planes for almost 10 years. He said he didn't notice many big changes on the medical side; "it was more tweaking the way the program was running."

"As a ground-level flight medic going out to the communities, we saw the equipment didn't change, the way we interact with patients didn't change, but there are a lot of internal culture changes that happened."

He said now the extra documentation allows them to look back over the years and find areas to improve upon, and it's "allowed me to find a couple areas that I can work on."

Jones said they are also checking their equipment more frequently.

"What you're going to see is friendly, knowledgeable staff that have more tools."

To keep the accreditation status, ACCESS will have to check in with the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems each month.