Quebec unveils ‘flying hospital’ for patient transport

Gaetan BarretteQUEBEC CITY – The province of Quebec has outfitted a Challenger jet to become a high-tech ambulance for transporting patients. What looks like a corporate jet on the outside houses an intensive care unit and mini-maternity suite where babies can be delivered at 35,000 feet in the air.

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette (pictured) inaugurated what he called the province’s first true “air hospital,” a $19.6-million Bombardier Challenger 601 jet that is already being praised for some of its unique medical equipment. The refurbished plane will enter service in September, replacing an old air ambulance that had logged more than 30,000 flying hours.

“This jet doesn’t exist elsewhere,” Barrette said, adding that the plane will provide “critical care at a level that is comparable to … a standard resuscitation room in any emergency room, including university teaching hospitals in Quebec.”

The jet will be added to the fleet of four planes that belong to ÉVAQ, the province’s air-ambulance and air-hospital service that was founded in 1981. Last year, the old Challenger jet provided care for and transported 1,900 patients from remote areas – primarily the far north – to hospitals in Quebec City and Montreal.

The medical team on the plane has indeed delivered babies in mid-flight and stablized the vital signs of patients who have been severely injured in accidents. “We have designed an ICU that is unique in the world,” Richard Bernier, ÉVAQ’s medical director, told the Montreal Gazette.

Among the new pieces of medical equipment are an Avalon FM20 fetal ultrasound monitor and a “flying harness” mounting platform for an incubator. The mounting platform is the first of its kind in the world. Under the system, the incubator rests on the platform that tilts upward 15 degrees during takeoff to prevent blood rushing to the newborn’s head.

“The medical literature has so far not demonstrated the need for such a harness, but the aim is to avoid the accumulation of blood in the head of a premature baby,” Bernier explained.

The plane also has Wi-Fi, which will allow the medical team to communicate via Skype to specialists in Quebec City and Montreal while the aircraft is on the tarmac in a distant regional airport.

Of the $19.6 million invested, $13 million went toward the purchase of the specialized medical equipment and $6.4 million for a used Challenger.

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