Regional air medical services improving

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A medical service in Hampton Roads recently celebrated 20,000 accident-free missions that saved lives.

Sentara Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance had its 35th anniversary on Feb. 25, recognizing 20,000 flights since 1982. The program will soon receive a new Suffolk helipad landing zone and approaches to safely transport patients.

“Sentara recognizes that air medical services are important to the region,” Sentara Nightingale program manager and flight paramedic Denise Baylous said.

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The helipad is part of a campus expansion for Sentara BelleHarbour on Bridge Road. Sentara spokesman Dale Gauding said the expansion is expected to break ground in May.

“Right now they need EMS or fire to come out and set up a landing zone for them,” Gauding said. “They won’t have to do that when the helipad is in place.”

Sentara Nightingale partnered with developer Hickok & Associates to implement FAA-approved instrument approach procedures specifically for Hampton Roads hospitals and EMS. Sentara Obici Hospital will receive an instrumental flight rules beacon allowing more flights in inclement weather.

Sentara is investing approximately $180,000 in the instruments at hospitals and airports. Baylous said these approaches will allow her team to reach patients and ground ambulances in poor visibility.

“Hickok & Associates are very well renowned in the industry for putting together safe approaches,” Baylous said.

The Nightingale program has 27 nurses, paramedics, pilots and communication specialists. It is one of eight Virginia Air Ambulance programs and one of the few not for profit. The team flew 426 missions in Western Tidewater from 2013 to 2016.

“We’re not required to find a certain amount of missions or meet a certain quota to make money,” Baylous said. “We don’t check anybody’s insurance.”

Rapid intervention is crucial in “the golden hour” for a trauma patient. Time is scarce, and the Nightingale team can transport a patient much faster than a ground team.

“Forty minutes to four minutes for a trauma patient makes all the difference in the world,” Gauding said.

He said the program relies on community emergency service partners to prepare patients for flight and to clear landing zones.

“Fire departments will identify any overhead obstacles that may become an issue for us to safely land,” Baylous said.

She has been with the Nightingale program for 14 years. She said her team agrees that it’s the best job in the world.

“My patient this morning was having a heart attack,’ she said. “Just knowing that you can hold someone’s hand and treat them and care for them, you know you’re making a difference.”