March 19, 2004

LifeFlight adds base, three new helicopters

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LifeFlight currently has helicopters based in Shelbyville at Bedford County Medical Center and in Clarksville at Gateway Medical Center. It will soon add a Lebanon base at the Lebanon Municipal Airport.

LifeFlight adds base, three new helicopters

Vanderbilt University Medical Center will expand its LifeFlight helicopter air ambulance program by adding a base in Lebanon and purchasing three new state-of-the-art helicopters, at a cost of $5.4 million each.

The move comes as part of LifeFlight’s strategic plan to provide fully integrated patient transportation services including fixed-wing (airplane), helicopter and critical care ground transportation, along with a coordinated Emergency Communications Center.

“Vanderbilt now provides a sophisticated integrated transportation system where we use the right vehicle, for the right patient, at the right time,” said John A. Morris Jr., M.D., professor of Surgery and director of the division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care. Morris serves as LifeFlight’s medical director and has overseen the program since its inception in 1984.

Morris says offering a network of transportation services, combined with the coordinated Emergency Communications Center, allows Vanderbilt LifeFlight nurses to tap into the expertise of Vanderbilt Medical Center.

The emergency transportation network includes the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Neonatal Angel Ambulance; a fixed-wing aircraft (propeller or Lear jet) capable of making long distance patient transports from almost anywhere in the world, and the three LifeFlight helicopters.

The Emergency Communications Center, managed by Jeff Gray, is located on the SkyPort atop Vanderbilt University Hospital. The center is staffed 24 hours a day by three emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics who coordinate all patient transportation efforts.

“The center is the heart of our transportation system,” Gray said. “LifeFlight communicators track all aircraft and ground ambulances by global positioning devices (GPS), answer all incoming ambulance traffic for the adult and children’s emergency departments, coordinate online medical control and dispatch trauma alerts.”

Fixed-wing transport, based at the Cornelia Fort Airpark, utilizes either a propeller airplane (a Beechcraft King Air E90) or an internationally configured Lear jet.

LifeFlight has converted one of the neonatal Angel ambulances for use with pediatric patients and adults as well. This ambulance is used to transport patients to and from the airport where the fixed-wing aircraft are based.

The new Lebanon LifeFlight base, to be located at the Lebanon Municipal Airport, is pending final approval from Lebanon City officials. LifeFlight officials say one of the helicopters, previously based at Vanderbilt Hospital, will relocate to Lebanon as part of the evolving strategic transportation plan. LifeFlight nurse Mark Tankersley will manage the new Lebanon base.

“This configuration enhances our response to all areas in Nashville, and outside of Nashville,” Morris said.

LifeFlight also has helicopters based in Shelbyville at Bedford County Medical Center and in Clarksville at Gateway Medical Center. LifeFlight serves all local hospitals and is the exclusive provider of air ambulance services for critical care patient transfers for TriStar Health Systems.

The VUMC Board of Directors recently approved the purchase of three new helicopters at a cost of $5.4 million each. The new helicopters, American Eurocopter EC-145’s, will be based in Lebanon, Clarksville, and Shelbyville. Vanderbilt LifeFlight is the first hospital-based air ambulance program in North America to utilize the American Eurocopter EC-145, which has been used extensively in Europe, and is called by aircraft industry experts as one of the safest, state-of-the-art helicopters on the market.

The EC-145 replaces Vanderbilt’s faithful BK-117’s, which have been the program’s aircraft of choice since 1987. LifeFlight has safely completed more than 20,000 flights in its 18-year history and continues to emphasize safety as its highest goal.

“Safety is our first mission,” Morris said.

The EC-145 has received “Category-A” certification, which means it can land or take off on steep terrain if the aircraft suffers from a single engine failure. The new twin-engine helicopters allow pilots to fly in inclement weather; have engines that can be shut down in 30 seconds and are capable of landing without power; are equipped with redundant fuel, lubrication, hydraulics and electrical systems; have advanced technical rotor blades that are quieter and provide for increased range and have a cruising speed of 150 mph. The new EC-145’s have a mission endurance of three hours, 25 minutes with a 30-minute fuel reserve. The cruising speed is 20 miles faster than LifeFlight’s previous helicopters. The new aircraft also features a larger cabin and greater flight range.

“The EC-145’s increased range will allow LifeFlight to increase the number of communities it serves, and the EC-145 will provide our medical crews with increased payload and clinical space, and our patients with better care,” Morris explained. “Vanderbilt’s commitment to the highest standards of medical transport are exemplified by this commitment of capital which further distances us from the services of our for- profit competitors.”