06/11/2013 10:43 EDT | Updated 08/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Fort McMurray Hospital Heli-Pad Desperately Needed, Say Doctor


FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - The head of the emergency room at Fort McMurray Hospital says people are dying because the hospital doesn't have its own heli-pad.

Dr. Brian Dufresne says if a helicopter brings in an injured or sick patient, it must land at Fort McMurray's airport.

He says the extra time it then takes to transport them to the hospital 15 kilometres away can prove fatal.

Alberta Health Services says $5.5 million for a new heli-pad at the Fort McMurray hospital was released only weeks ago and construction is set to start next spring.

Dufresne says he's worked at the hospital for 20 years and can't believe they're still fighting for "an essential part of emergency medical services.''

The hospital used to have its own heli-pad but it was shut down in 2007 by Transport Canada after officials found it didn't meet standards.

Dufresne says at the time, Alberta Health Services wouldn't pay for the upgrades to bring the landing space up to code.

He estimates his emergency room is one of the busiest in Alberta, with tens of thousands of camp workers in the oilsands situated in areas more than an hour from the city.

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