Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare launches helicopter service to expand rural access

Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 9:22 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2022 at 11:24 AM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare announced Tuesday it has a new, dedicated helicopter medical crew that will help bring faster, critical care to patients within 120 miles of the hospital.

TMH is teaming up with Survival Flight Inc. to establish this crew to help save lives throughout the Big Bend.

TMH staff members joined the crew for a blessing of the helicopter.

Kyrie Thomas, the Executive Director of Emergency Services for TMH, explained the importance of the new partnership.

“There are helicopters in other areas throughout Florida and throughout the Panhandle, but there hasn’t been one stationed in Tallahassee for over a decade, so this is a big step up for us,” Thomas said. “Our trauma patients, our stroke patients where we need to do these timed interventions on them, it’s going to allow us to be able to help more people and provide care in a better manner for them.”

The base clinical manager and flight nurse Trent Robinson was excited to return to the skies around Tallahassee. He’s been working in emergency services for more than thirty years.

“Everything happens really quick. We’re moving at 150 miles an hour; we’re in a small space. Helicopters are not big work areas, so we have to be used to working in a confined space. And you have to make quick decisions in this business,” Robinson said.

He described the helicopter as a flying ICU.

“We’re a critical care team with a nurse and a paramedic, so we can go out into the community and bring these patients back. We stabilize them in flight. We give them medications,” Robinson said. “We do advanced treatments in flight and bring them to TMH where they can further the treatment.”

TMH says the helicopter and crew will be on call 24/7 to fly the area’s most critical patients to the Bixler Trauma & Emergency Center at TMH, which is the area’s only Level II trauma center.

The helicopter crew can take patients to TMH from rural healthcare facilities. Additionally, local emergency services can send the helicopter directly to crash scenes, especially those on I-10.

TMH Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer Ryan Smith says the hospital is proud to bring this life-saving service to patients in Southwest Georgia, Southeast Alabama and North Florida.

“We know we can save more lives by getting patients to TMH faster. Having a flight crew here allows us to create a seamless process of accepting patients and getting them to TMH as quickly as possible to receive advanced care,” Smith says.

According to the press release, Survival Flight is based in Batesville, Arkansas. TMH will be its 21st location in the Southeast and Midwest. The crew uses a Bell 407 helicopter, which can carry five people at a time: the pilot, patient, a flight nurse, a paramedic and the patient’s family member or loved one.

The press release says before Survival Flight’s arrival at TMH, there was no medical helicopter service based in Leon County or the immediate surrounding area.

“It won’t take long for the community to start hearing and seeing testimonies from patients and families saying that the helicopter saved their lives,” said Harold Newton, Regional Director for Survival Flight. “It will make a difference in somebody’s life the very first day it’s in the air.”

TMH says its base has about 15 crew members, including pilots, paramedics, flight nurses, a mechanic and a base lead to manage operations. The crew will work directly with nurses, specialists and the transfer center at TMH to bring injured or sick patients to the hospital.

TMH says patients experiencing trauma, cardiac emergencies and strokes will benefit from the new flight crew, since TMH offer’s the region’s best cardiac center with an accredited chest pain center and primary PCI and resuscitation.

The release also says TMH has North Florida’s only comprehensive stroke center and is the only facility in the Big Bend that performs minimally invasive stroke interventions.

“When you’re having a stroke, every second counts,” said Matthew Lawson, MD, neurosurgeon and Medical Director of the Tallahassee Memorial Stroke Program. “At TMH, we have the highest level of stroke care, but these treatment options are dependent on the time the patient arrives. Having a helicopter on our campus will help us bring patients experiencing a stroke to the treatments they need faster. As a member of this community, not just a physician, I know this will positively impact our ability to care for these critical patients.”

In order to bring more access to care for patients in rural areas, TMH says it expects to work with partner facilities. Those facilities include George E. Weems Memorial Hospital in Apalachicola, Doctor’s Memorial Hospital in Perry, Calhoun-Liberty Hospital in Blountstown and more locations within a 120-mile radius of the hospital to accept patients via helicopter.

TMH says healthcare facilities within 120 miles that want to transfer patients via helicopter can call its transfer center at 877-864-8762. Local emergency services will coordinate sending the helicopter to emergency or accident scenes, the release says.

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