By Lauren Gagatek
Special to The Pioneer
As you pass by the Invermere & District Hospital you might notice the upturned dirt and newly erected posts in the parking lot, visible signs that work on the helipad is approaching completion.
It has been almost two years since Invermere lost the use of its hospital helipad, which was shut down in June 2010 after failing a Transport Canada safety inspection. Since then, air ambulances have been forced to land at the Invermere airport, except in incidents where lives may be at risk.
But now there’s a glimmer of hope for those who have been working behind the scenes to ensure Invermere hospital’s helicopter services resume.
“We’re optimistic for an operation permit by the end of June but it is subject to Transport Canada,” said Erica Phillips, Health Service Administrator for Golden and Invermere & District hospitals. “We’re anticipating completion of construction by late May and from there we need to go through the process of having the heliport certified by Transport Canada.”
The certification process involves a visit from Transport Canada, who will fly over the site and inspect it to ensure the problems identified in the 2010 safety inspection have been resolved.
These included replacing the non-compliant helipad surface and fencing, increasing the size of the helipad to accommodate larger helicopters, relocating oxygen tanks placed too close to the helipad, and creating a new emergency response plan.
“Right now they’re putting in some height restriction bars for the flight path and we’re waiting for the concrete companies to open and have the finishing landscape work completed,” Ms. Phillips explained.
Because the construction project leader specialized in designing helipads, Ms. Phillips is optimistic that the facility should receive the final sign-off.
If any extra work must be completed to open the helipad, it is expected to be minor, she added.
The upgrades will also allow the helipad’s main users, Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS), to carry out their planned upgrades to larger helicopters, noted Gerry Taft, Invermere’s mayor.
“It’s a step in the right direction having the safety work done so that [the service] is available,” he added.
As for a final finish date on the work, the completion of “lighting, paving and landscaping is all weather sensitive,” said Joe Helmer from Max Helmer Construction, who have carried out the upgrades.
The overhead wires along 10th Avenue will remain standing, but they will have marking and lighting added for increased visibility, he explained.
The hospital helipad upgrades have cost close to $300,000 — money diverted from the recent emergency room redevelopment project.