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Grand Manan to get permanent air ambulance in the fall, after year of close calls

Grand Manan will be getting a permanent aircraft stationed on the island beginning in the fall, according to the Department of Health.  (Submitted by Ambulance New Brunswick - image credit)
Grand Manan will be getting a permanent aircraft stationed on the island beginning in the fall, according to the Department of Health. (Submitted by Ambulance New Brunswick - image credit)

After over a year without air ambulance services, Grand Manan will have a permanent aircraft stationed on the island beginning in the fall, according to a Department of Health news release Thursday.

It will be the first permanent aircraft to be stationed on the island since medevac services were lost in 2022 after changes to Transport Canada regulations led to the loss of a contract with Ambulance New Brunswick.

Municipality mayor Bonnie Morse welcomes the development.

"This has been something that we have been in discussions with the Department of Health and Ambulance New Brunswick ... for well over a year now. So it's something we've been advocating for a long time," Morse said.

According to the release, Ambulance New Brunswick signed a contract with Voyageur Aviation to bring the aircraft to the island.

Ambulance N.B. currently operates a primary aircraft and a mechanical backup, both of which are King Air 200 models. The new Grand Manan aircraft will also be a King Air 200.

Until the new aircraft is stationed on Grand Manan, Ambulance N.B. "will continue to collaborate with Voyageur Aviation to maximize usage of the backup aircraft to support services on Grand Manan. This temporary measure is expected to be partially operational starting in March," said the release.

Emma Boynton, a Grand Menan resident, who had to give birth in an ambulance on a the side of a road, said a permanent air ambulance could be a life saver to people in emergency situations.
Emma Boynton, a Grand Menan resident, who had to give birth in an ambulance on a the side of a road, said a permanent air ambulance could be a life saver to people in emergency situations.

Emma Boynton, a Grand Manan resident who gave birth in an ambulance on the side of a road last year, says a permanent air ambulance could be a lifesaver to people in emergency situations. (Submitted by Nigel Brown)

Morse said the absence of a permanent air ambulance caused anxiety in the community, particularly during bad weather events such as persistent foggy periods.

"In general, people were anxious about what if something happened, would they be able to access the same health care that the rest of New Brunswick does," Morse said. 

"For us, it certainly felt like a long time being out here and without having that coverage."

CBC News contacted Ambulance New Brunswick and the province's Department of Health for comment. The Department of Health directed questions to Ambulance New Brunswick.

Asked why a permanent solution took over a year to reach the island and why a temporary one took several months, Ambulance N.B.'s communications advisor Eric Robichaud said in a statement that "this is a complex initiative with many variables and multiple stakeholders."

A year of close calls, worry

Following medevac services being grounded in 2022, patients have on multiple occasions had to resort to being transported by military search and rescue helicopters to access mainland hospitals better equipped for their needs

Last year, Grand Manan resident Emma Boynton gave birth in an ambulance on the side of a road on the island, with her newborn having to be resuscitated by paramedics.

She and her partner were told that there was no air ambulance to take her to the Saint John Regional Hospital.

Boynton said she thinks having a permanent air ambulance is "a great idea considering how much has happened since [medevac] has been gone."

Boynton said that a permanently-stationed aircraft could be a "lifesaver" for emergencies that can't be managed on the island and that having been able to get to the mainland regional hospital probably would have changed her situation as well.

"I probably wouldn't have needed a blood transfusion and I feel like this would have went a lot more smoothly than what it did," Boynton said.

Thursday's news release said that air ambulance services will eventually transition to 24/7 advance life support services on the island.

"We're glad to see a light at the end of the tunnel and that we will have service restored here to the island," said Morse.