Up in the Sky, It’s a…


Sitting on a concrete pad behind the Morgan Township fire station is a unique helicopter. On the left side it’s painted in the blue and white color scheme of HealthNet Aeromedical Services, Inc. On the right side, it bears the green and white of MedFlight. For some people, that’s like a helmet with University of Michigan colors on one side and Ohio State colors on the other. It’s just not done.

But it is in this case. The EC-130 helicopter that bears the radio call sign of both HealthNet Aeromedical Services, Inc.’s Base 4 and MedFlight 7 is a symbol of the cooperation that brings emergency healthcare transportation to the people of Scioto and surrounding counties.

HealthNet Aeromedical Services, Inc. is a West Virginia-based nonprofit corporation that provides medical transport services in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. MedFlight is a Columbus-based company that provides similar services in Ohio.

Back in 2005, both companies were trying to service the Portsmouth, Ohio, region with medical transport via helicopters from regional bases. HealthNet Aeromedical Services, Inc. served the area from a base in Huntington, W.Va., and Medflight did the same from its base in Wellston, Ohio.

Clinton Burley, HealthNet Aeromedical Services, Inc. president and CEO, recalled that local emergency services leaders wanted to have an aircraft based in the county. In response, the leadership of both medical services launched a joint partnership in 2006 to open a helicopter base in the Portsmouth area.

“Rather than each organization bringing an aircraft here, which would have been counter productive, these two not-for-profits determined to work together to develop service under a joint model,” Burley said. “It’s the only one of its kind in the country.”

The two companies shared the expense of opening the base and ongoing operations, including training and education for the crew. The companies provide regular education opportunities for local EMS, fire crews and hospitals.

“It has become more than just painting a helicopter in our colors; it’s truly been a testament of partnership to look past the traditional model and do a great service for the community,” said Todd Bailey, director of business development for MedFlight.

Bailey said the majority of flights are interfacility transfers, ferrying patients to larger urban medical centers with a higher level of care. The rest are scene flights, where the helicopter responds to a highway accident or other trauma.

Most patients transported locally need cardiac care. The helicopter can transmit vital signs to the hospital so the staff is aware of the patient’s condition when he or she arrives.

The local base is critical for immediate response because, even with a helicopter that flies at 120 mph, every second counts. A new helicopter, a French-built Eurocopter EC-130, was purchased earlier this year to operate from the base west of Lucasville.

It has seats for the pilot, a flight nurse and a flight paramedic, and a stretcher for the patient. The patient stretcher rides up front beside the pilot, and the healthcare team can work with the patient in flight.

Inside, the helicopter is a cross between an ambulance and an intensive care unit stocked with life support and diagnostic equipment.

We bring the medical capabilities that you see in the metropolitan areas out to the rural communities and smaller medical facilities,” Burley said.

#5 HealthNetThe helicopter has sophisticated navigation and safety equipment, including terrain avoidance and traffic avoidance instruments, as well as satellite weather updates. It also has an autopilot that allows the pilot to concentrate on air traffic control or weather information. Pilots are equipped with night vision goggles, which they use for night flights and bad weather.

The crew has living quarters as well as the office space for the operation in a building next to the helipad. The pilot works a 12-hour shift while the medical crew is on duty 24 hours at a time.

When a call comes in, the radio in the station blares the news. The crew scrambles, grabbing their flight helmets and strapping in for the flight.

Rebecca Younts has been a flight nurse for about three years, building on a 19-year career that includes a stint in emergency room care.

The crew has to handle a wide variety of patients, from a mom in labor to accident victims to a heart attack.

“When the alert goes off, it gets your blood pumping. You never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s the best job ever, and the best part of the day is when you get to take care of patients.”

Photos by Mark Mennie

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Gary Wollenhaupt