March 17, 2000

LifeFlight relocating one bird to new nest

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LifeFlight is relocating one helicopter’s base of operations to Bedford County Medical Center. (photo by Anne Rayner)

LifeFlight relocating one bird to new nest

In order to better serve patients in areas south of Nashville, LifeFlight will permanently base one of its two aircraft at Bedford County Medical Center in Shelbyville. The air ambulance program reached the decision on the new site after a year-long study of two potential satellite locations.

“We started to look at a satellite program for a number of reasons about eighteen months ago,” said Dr. John A. Morris Jr., professor of Surgery and Director of the Division of Trauma. “We needed to get closer to our referral community to cut down on transport time. The faster we can get a LifeFlight crew to a patient the better the chance of survival.”

Morris said that having satellite locations for air ambulance programs has been a popular trend in the industry for the last several years. “The management challenge is to place the program in a rural community and to not lose the very tight controls that allow us to maintain high safety standards,” he said. “This is not a decision you make lightly in order to ensure the satellite is a win-win situation for both the program and the local community.”

Over the past year LifeFlight conducted a 100-flight pilot study to help with the decision of where to locate. Morris said that the study was necessary to see if service to patients in the catchment area south of Nashville could be improved while not degrading the response time for patients in areas north of the medical center.

“Through the study we were able to satisfy those goals of improving response times to patients south of VUMC, and we were still able to provide the same level of service for patients north of here,” he said.

After safety concerns were addressed then the decision came down to two factors. “Number one, the desire of the people in that area to have the program there, and number two, both medical and mechanical support,” he said.

Both Bedford County and Maury County expressed strong interest in having the LifeFlight satellite. After careful deliberation of all factors, the Bedford County Medical Center site was chosen.

“We are delighted that LifeFlight has chosen to locate here in Bedford County,” said David Snyder, chief executive officer of Bedford County Medical Center. “Lifeflight has made, and will continue to make, important contributions to our community improving the health care of the residents of Bedford County. This provides a link and assures a connection that is constant with Vanderbilt.”

Bedford County Medical Center has a Tennessee Department of Transportation approved landing site located adjacent to the hospital. Morris said the site has good security and excellent facilities for the ground and flight crew. The site also offers good support in terms of equipment and supplies from the adjacent hospital. “We need a complicated package of medical support, logistical support, security, and technical support for this to work,” he said.

Morris said that the decision for the location was not arrived at easily. “The only way to decide was to locate in these two places and try them both out and see which place suited our needs best,” he said. “Both Bedford County and Maury County have some of the best EMS programs in the state and the hospital, and paramedics are great to work with, but the facilities in Bedford County gave that location a decided benefit. We had virtually the same number of flights from each location and the results of the medical data, reduction in response times and EMS support were identical. However Bedford County has superior facilities for the aircraft and flight crew.”

“We had the foresight to build our heliport to the maximum specifications of the Tennessee Bureau of Aeronautics. We have a very good heliport,” said Raford Hulan, senior board member of Bedford County Medical Center’s Board of Trustees. “The addition of LifeFlight to our community is to the advantage of everyone in southern Middle Tennessee. We are very pleased.”

Morris credits Hulan and Snyder for their forward-thinking for the well-equipped facility. “Raford had the vision years ago to build the heliport adjacent to the hospital, and David supplied the hospital-based logistical support necessary to make this complex program work,” he said.

LifeFlight expects to have the Shelbyville facility fully operational within the next 90 days. Until then the aircraft will continue to rotate between the Shelbyville and Maury County locations.