Medevac plane retrofitted for Yukon’s larger patients

A Yukon medevac plane is being retrofitted to handle the territory's bariatric patients. The number of patients over 350 pounds who need to be airlifted has gone up, says the territory's EMS director.

A Yukon medevac plane is being retrofitted to handle the territory’s bariatric patients.

The number of patients over 350 pounds who need to be airlifted has gone up, says the territory’s EMS director.

Jeff Simons said his department handled only one trip in 2008 for patients who weighted more than 350 pounds or had a diameter of more than 24 inches. That number jumped to three trips in 2010.

So far in 2015 they’ve made nine trips.

“We are noticing an increase in that type of service and we are trying to stay ahead of it and provide that service for Yukon residents,” he said.

The weight of a bariatric patient can make it difficult to lift them into the plane and their size can be too big for the door. An adapted King Air 350 will allow the heavy lifting to be done with an electronic piston system. The door will also be made wider.

While staff are very careful, manual lifting could be a workplace health and safety issue, Simons said.

“As we’re getting the patients that are either too heavy for the equipment or too large for the door, that does put the people lifting at added risk and that’s part of why we’ve been pursuing this solution.”

Alkan Air, which has the contract to run medevac flights, is paying for most of the work, about $400,000 worth. The Yukon government spent about $30,000 to buy the actual equipment and the Department of Health and Social Services has agreed to pay an extra stipend to Alkan any time the plane is used.

The new plane should be up and flying once everyone involved is trained, Simons said. That’s expected to be by June.

Right now, when bariatric patients that need to be flown from the communities to Whitehorse, Alkan will help EMS find a plane that can fit the patient.

These planes don’t have oxygen or other equipment already set up in the back.

“We’ll take an aircraft that has a suitably sized door, that we can get the person through and that we can anchor our stretcher to, so it has to have some sort of mount on the floor,” Simons said.

“Then we use all the same equipment. Except, because there’s no equipment already in that aircraft, what we have to do is bring along portable equipment. Extra batteries, extra oxygen tanks.”

If a bariatric patient in Whitehorse needs to be flown outside, the territory pays a different company to come with a specialized plane.

The setup used for flights within the territory is usually not good enough for longer flights out, Simons said.

“So what we would do is, we would use the best tool for the job, which would mean we would call and out-of-territory team from usually Alberta or B.C. to come up and pick up a patient.”

According to the Health Department, those flights can cost approximately $30,000.

“What it’s going to do for us now is, we’ll have the solution for both the in-territory and the out of territory (flights),” Simons said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

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