The head of the Emergency Room at Fort McMurray Hospital said many innocent people are dying, because their hospital doesn’t have its own heli-pad or a dedicated helicopter – adding precious minutes to travel time for patients, who already have very little time to spare.

“It’s just unbelievable that we’re still fighting for what I think is an essential part of emergency medical services here,” Dr. Brian Dufresne said.

Dr. Dufresne has worked at that hospital for nearly 20 years, in the last few years – things have changed.

In 2007, the heli-pad that was dedicated to that hospital was shut down by Transport Canada – after officials found it didn’t meet standards.

Dr. Dufresne said at the time, AHS wouldn’t cover upgrades to bring the landing space up to standards.

Now, he says, people are dying – if an air ambulance brings in a patient in need of urgent care, the helicopter can’t land at the hospital – they must land near the Fort McMurray Airport.

Then, the patients are taken by ground ambulance to hospital, about 15 kilometres away from the airport – it’s led to a trend that’s making Dr. Dufresne increasingly frustrated.

“When a patient is two-and-a-half hours in the back of an ambulance, and dies 20 minutes or 10 minutes from our door, it’s very frustrating,” Dufresne said.

Dufresne said with the need for a ground transfer, the time a transfer can take can end up taking up to four hours, and he estimates his ER is one of the busiest in Alberta – with tens of thousands of camp workers situated in areas more than an hour from the city.

However, Alberta Health Services told CTV News $5.5 million for a new heli-pad at that hospital was released only weeks ago, and construction is set to start next spring.

Meanwhile, the owner of Phoenix Heli-Flight, a Fort McMurray-based helicopter company, said he’s been pushing for provincial funding for a Medevac helicopter.

Paul Spring has already put up $6 million of his own money to buy a new EC135 helicopter – and trained pilots to fly aircraft equipped with night-vision goggles and a rescue hoist - important tools for all-hours medical missions.

“There’s a lot of activity here, and a lot of need,” Spring said. “We’re doing the best we can to address it, but we need help.”

The new helicopter is expected to arrive between November 2013 and February 2014.

Right now, Phoenix Heli-Flight can provide helicopters for medical calls during daylight hours, but a new medevac craft the company is funding will be able to operate at all hours.

STARS is based in Edmonton, and takes about two hours to get to the Fort McMurray area.

With files from Veronica Jubinville