Bigger, faster aircraft powers new AU AirCare ambulance service

June 23, 2021

Source: The Augusta Chronicle

Liam Bisnett, got into an air ambulance for the first time Tuesday but thankfully the 16-month-old was not sick or injured.

“All of the other ones I’ve flown on have been too small,” said his father, Michael, chief flight officer for AU AirCare, after setting Liam into a pilot seat of the EC145e helicopter as it sat at its base at Augusta Regional Airport. The size and speed of the new helicopter will come in handy, said officials with AU Health System.

The air ambulance officially went into service Tuesday afternoon and is expected to bring patients to both AU Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Georgia.

“This aircraft will allow us to get those critically ill children or trauma patients from the side of the road transported to the location where they need to be,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer for AU Health.

It has a number of significant upgrades over previous air ambulance service provided in the Augusta area, which ended about two years ago, officials said. The larger cabin and lift capacity mean the crew can actually work on the patient en route, said Dr. Valera Hudson, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at AU.

“We’ve never had the space and the capacity to provide care in-flight,” she said.

“This is truly an advanced level of care,” Coule said.

The helicopter also has the capacity to take on an additional passenger, said Katrina Keefer, CEO of AU Health.

“Particularly for our pediatric population, it’s incredibly important to have an opportunity for a parent to accompany their child en route to the hospital,” she said.

The helicopter has a cruising speed of 155 mph, which makes it one of the fastest in the state, and with a range of 350 miles can cover both Georgia and South Carolina, Coule said.

“AirCare is one more way AU Health can improve our reach across the region and provide patients with more rapid access to the subspecialty expertise found within our enterprise,” Keefer said.

The extra capacity also provides an opportunity for a student or resident to learn in the air, Hudson and Coule said.

“Certainly it provides a lot of training opportunities for people that are in specialized training, such as pediatric critical care or neonatology or Emergency Medicine or EMS to be able to experience this firsthand,” Coule said.

The crews are highly trained in critical care and Emergency Medicine and the pilots, which will be provided by partner Metro Aviation, have an average of 10½ years experience flying helicopters, Coule said.

The new helicopter also has the ability to take off and land vertically, which means it could touch down at the scene of an accident, as opposed to previous air ambulances in Augusta where a ground ambulance had to initially transport the patient to an area like an airport where the helicopter could land, Hudson said.

“So with a wreck on (Interstate) 20, our new aircraft will be able to pick them up on the highway,” she said.

The helicopter and crew are going to be busy – AU Health is expecting around 365 flights a year, Coule said.

“We’re anticipating more than one a day,” he said. “We’d love to see that volume higher.”

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