From left, Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne, Premier Andrew Furey and Eastern Health clinical chief of cardiac care Dr. Sean Connors are seen in January 2023 at the announcement for the province's fly-in, fly out cardiac service. (Ted Dillon/CBC)
Gander will be the new site of Newfoundland and Labrador's Heart Force One program.
The health care initiative, which began one year ago, was established to give cardiac patients quick service for catheterization procedures without the hassle of overnight stays.
Patients are assessed, and those deemed suitable for air travel are flown to St. John's and returned to their regional health-care facility the same day.
Lauded by all three major political parties when it was announced in January 2023, the province called it Heart Force One.
Now, Health Minister Tom Osborne says the province wants to expand the program and base it in Gander.
"Based on the fact that this program will now be scheduled with predictability, we are also able to look at adding other services to that besides cardiac [catheterization]. So that will allow us then to expand the service, perhaps even more flights, more patients throughout the province with more services," Osborne said Tuesday.
"It's different than medical flight specialists on an air ambulance. It's a different set of requirements needed for the staff, but there would be staff that would be required in Gander. Obviously, the flights would originate from Gander."
The province issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the Heart Force One program in September — which closes in February — but Osborne said the decision to base it in Gander was made recently.
When the RFP was issued for air ambulance in December, it detailed how the base locations will be in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and St. John's, and the dispatch service will be moved from Gander to St. John's.
"Based on the fact that Heart Force One will be based in Gander, we've also indicated to the mayor … that a helicopter for the new air ambulance service will be based in Gander," Osborne said.
"We are looking at a greater reliance on fixed wing than we currently have. We are looking at consolidating and co-ordinating those services… But based on the fact we will have more air ambulance, we also fully anticipate greater activity in Gander as a result of that as well."
The new Heart Force One program, which Osborne says may need to be renamed, could also be serviced by private-sector airlines like PAL Airlines or EVAS Air.
"Without naming any particular proponents, I know the two proponents that are based in the province, either of those proponents, their aircraft would be acceptable," Osborne said.
"Once the tender is awarded, we'll be able to provide a better idea of the number [of jobs], but that number itself will be fluid because as we add more services, we may need more health professionals on the flights. As we increase the number of procedures that will be added to those flights, we may need more flights."