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Vanderbilt LifeFlight sees large increase in Covid-19 transports

Dec. 10, 2020, 11:28 AM


by Jerry Jones

Vanderbilt LifeFlight has transported more than 220 Covid-19 patients since the pandemic started with the numbers rising dramatically in the last few weeks.

A total of 109 patients have been flown by either helicopter and airplane to Vanderbilt University Medical Center or to another receiving facility, with many of these patients coming from a rural part of Tennessee and often in very critical condition due to the virus.

More than 110 COVID patients have been transported by one of LifeFlight’s Critical Care ground ambulances, which can transport patients when aircraft can’t fly due to weather or the transport is intercity.

“We are definitely seeing a significant increase in the number of patients we are flying,” said Kevin Nooner, MSN, RN, NE-BC, air medical program director. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase over the past week, averaging at least three transports a day via helicopter.”

Nooner said some the patients are being flown from smaller rural hospitals to larger rural hospitals, because tertiary care centers in Tennessee’s larger cities are full.

“Vanderbilt LifeFlight routinely transports patients all over the eastern United States and not just in middle Tennessee,” he explained. “And in addition to the increase in volume, we’ve seen an increase in the severity of these cases, requiring our advanced level of care during transport.”

Michael Wallace, MBA, CCPM, NRP, program director for Event Medicine, Ground EMS and Communications, said Vanderbilt’s ground EMS teams have seen a parallel increase in the number of Covid-19 patients they are transporting.

“We have seen a gradual increase each day since early November,” Wallace said. “And much like our colleagues in air transport, these patients are critically ill and require advanced care and treatment.”

Due to the longer transport times on the airplane and critical care ground ambulance, those crews have access to a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) device, which is a battery-operated blower that passes contaminated air through a HEPA filter, which removes the contaminant and supplies purified air to a facepiece.

After each Covid-19 transport, it can take up to two hours for the crews to decontaminate the transport vehicles. All surfaces are wiped clean with an antiviral agent and each day every aircraft is sprayed with an antibacterial sanitizing product that keeps surfaces protected against bacteria for 24 hours. The ground ambulances are equipped with a special UV Light that helps with the decontamination process and once that process is complete, a manual cleaning with an antiviral agent is done.

“We remain committed to the highest safety standards for our patients and our personnel,” Nooner said.

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