Business of the Month:
Shannon AirMed1 - Heroes of the Sky
We’ve all heard the hum of the approaching rotors. We shift our gaze upward and see the green and gold helicopter soaring through the sky on the way to or from downtown San Angelo.
A medical service helicopter, such as Shannon Medical Center’s AirMed1, responds to an accident every 90 seconds, according to the American Association of Air Medical Services. The air medical industry combines the great powers of aviation and healthcare to provide what is essentially a flying emergency department, trauma and critical-care unit.
Shannon partners with Med-Trans Corporation to supply AirMed1 to provide expedited quality care to our family, friends and neighbors here in the vast region that is West Texas. Since becoming part of the Shannon family, the AirMed1 crew has responded to numerous emergencies. They have been referred to as “life savers,” “angels from heaven,” “wonderful people” and “heroes.”
AirMed1 transports cardiac, trauma, medical, pediatric, and burn patients. Transportation via AirMed1 of critically ill or injured patients can significantly reduce time en route to the
hospital and allow patients to receive definitive care within the "GOLDEN HOUR," the first hour following injury, heart attack or another critical or life-threatening condition. This is especially crucial due to Shannon’s expansive service area, most of which is rural.
Jody Babiash, AirMed1 pilot and base aviation manager for Med-Trans, has been a pilot for 13 years. He began flying with Shannon AirMed1 nine years ago.
“I enjoy the challenges that come with flying a medical service helicopter,” Babiash said. “Every day is something new and EMS is such a rewarding career— knowing we are out there saving people’s lives. I am always in awe of how our crew at AirMed1 performs their jobs and I am proud to be a part of this team.”
AirMed1 is staffed 24 hours a day with an experienced crew that includes a registered nurse, paramedic and pilot. The crew is specially trained in Advanced Life Support techniques for adult and pediatric patients. AirMed1’s service area covers 30 counties, or more than 130,000 square miles, making the flight times longer than average. Therefore, the crew utilizes state-of-the-art medical technology to ensure their patients are already receiving the best care possible before arriving at the hospital.
“At AirMed1, we have a highly-trained crew who are talented in what they do and very safety-minded,” Judee Garrett, RN, CCRN, Shannon AirMed1 coordinator and flight nurse, said. “I am never uncomfortable with the decisions they make. I also know that we all come to our occupations with a particular set of strengths. I feel strongly that it is our obligation to the people in the areas that we serve, to use those strengths and be ready to provide the highest level of medical care available.”
The aircraft is equipped with a 12-lead EKG which can transmit digital results of the cardiac test before the crew takes off to transport patients back to the hospital. In the case of a heart attack, this allows the Cath Lab team to be ready and waiting when the patient arrives. The aircraft also boasts night vision goggles and enhanced vision systems that allow the crew to see properly when dispatched at night. Previously only used for military purposes, the goggles obtain any available ambient light, such as the moon and stars, and multiply it thousands of times, turning darkness into "near daylight" conditions. AirMed1 is also one of very few flight services to carry blood on every flight.
Other equipment on the helicopter includes radar altimeters, GPS navigation, satellite tracking, auto-pilot for safety measures in the event the aircraft is caught in unsuspected bad weather, terrain alert warning system (TAWS) and traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS).
The crew does not operate by themselves; they have plenty of necessary on-ground support at Shannon’s 24-hour Communication Center. The Communication Center expedites patient transfers and transports and is always aware of physician availability, bed status, blood availability, and other critical information to emergency and trauma response. Area hospitals, with limited personnel, have to make only one phone call to arrange further care for their patient, whether they need an accepting physician, air transport, or ground transport.
At the beginning of a call, the Comm Center may only be able to tell the crew where they need to go. A communication specialist stays in continuous contact with the flight crew, relaying additional information throughout the flight. While in flight, the crew begins the “resource management” process. They discuss the “if, but, and what” could happen when they land.
“We don’t know if we are going to be the first to respond or not,” Cindy Gurley, RN, AirMed1 flight nurse, said. “We use the information we have received to make a game plan and prepare for the worst case scenario.”
Communication specialists are in contact with people at the scene and they let the crew know who to talk to when they land. Depending on the call, the Comm Center may also dispatch other helicopters and coordinate the landings at the scene.
“The Comm Center is essentially our air traffic control when we fly, especially when we are dispatched to rural areas,” Joey Huffman, AirMed1 flight paramedic, said. “They coordinate the flight from the time a call is received to the time we land back at the hospital and they do a fantastic job. The better the picture they paint for us while we are in the air, the better off we are when we land.”
Each Shannon communication specialist holds a National Air Communication Specialist certification. AirMed1 and the Comm Center work closely with area emergency medical services, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments to bring mobile intensive care unit capabilities into the service area.
One way AirMed1 helps support the community and the region served is through proceeds from the annual Shannon Sporting Clay Shoot. Held each July, and now in its eighteenth year, the largest charity shoot in Texas attracts more than 700 shooters and 1,500 spectators with programs at Shannon, such as AirMed1, benefiting from the proceeds. AirMed1 uses the funds received to provide equipment and education to the outlying EMS services and hospitals with the goal of further improving patient outcomes. The crew holds landing zone and free continuing education classes for the rural partners and participates in countless health and safety events.
AirMed1 is a four-time winner of the Air Medical Service award given by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The award honors a public or private air medical service in Texas that demonstrates the highest standards in providing patient care to the citizens of the service region. A committee assembled by the department selects the winner. AirMed1 also received several letters of recommendation for the award, including support from area schools, emergency services, patients and hospitals. AirMed1 is also certified by Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems.
A flight on a medical service helicopter is no joyride and an experience we hope to live a lifetime without, but we can seek comfort in the fact that those heroes in the West Texas sky will always be there when we need them.
The Ozona Chamber of Commerce would like to recognize Shannon AirMed1 as an asset to our business community and for the quality service provided to their patients.
“We are blessed and honored to have had such a strong community partnership throughout the past 23 years,” Gurley said. “We are glad to be here when needed and hope to continue doing so for many years to come.”
For more information about Shannon AirMed1 visit www.shannonhealth.com.