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Tulsa Life Flight; A new era of emergency care

April 29, 2013

A new era in emergency medical care has begun in LeFlore County with the landing of Tulsa Life Flight at its new base at the Robert S. Kerr Airport in Poteau.
Tulsa Life Flight base four, owned by Air Methods Corp., began its local operations Jan. 12. By opening the Poteau location, Life Flight officials said they have greatly reduced their flight time, by approximately 30 minutes, compared with a run that was responding from the next nearest base in Keefeton.
LeFlore County Emergency Medical Director Dave Grovdahl said the presence of Tulsa Life Flight in the county will be a huge benefit to patients needing emergency care in the area.
“Before, we would blindly launch an aircraft, not knowing what would happen due to flight time,” Grovdahl said. “Now we can assess the patient at the scene, launch them [Tulsa Life Flight] and still have them there sooner than before. It saves money and resources.”
According to Grovdahl, talks to have a medical helicopter in LeFlore County began three years ago, but in the past year the discussion turned into plans.
“Our help assessment in the community said we needed something in this area, and doing that has been in the talks for three years,” Grovdahl said. “Serious discussion with all the area agencies that could get [Tulsa Life Flight] here started a year ago. It took the cooperation of several emergency departments such as [LeFlore County Emergency Medical Services], the hospital [Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center] and TLF.”
The move to Poteau was in part made possible when a new hangar was constructed at the airport, making nearly 3,000 square feet available for Tulsa Life Flight to lease. The hangar houses the company’s A Star helicopter, which is equipped with the latest technology and instrumentation available, according to Ted Galbraith, R.N./paramedic and base supervisor. He said the A Star helicopter has more speed and a quicker lift capacity than many medical helicopters and can carry patients up to 300 pounds. One of the benefits of the A Star unit is its capacity to hold more fuel than other medical helicopters, providing it with a longer flying distance.
Galbraith said the TLF flight crew, which is made up of a pilot, a paramedic and a nurse, is housed at the airport. Each registered nurse and paramedic works a 24-hour shift, and then is rotated to days off, though pilots are on a 12-hour rotation. There are four nurses, four paramedics and two full-time pilots assigned to the Poteau location. When the area pilots are off duty, pilots from other company bases fill in at the Poteau base. Each crew member is a highly trained and experienced member of the medical team.
“The pilots and crew predominately live in your community,” said Susan Cook, regional business director for Region 5 of Air Methods Corp. “To be employed by Air Methods, our pilots must have at least 2,000 hours of flight time, more than other companies require. Most of our pilots have many more hours, as they are former military pilots. The medical flight crew consists of an RN/paramedic and a paramedic. They must have two years of experience each to fly on our aircraft. Many have more than five to 10 years of experience in a high-volume EMS service and/or critical-care unit.”
The crews have state-of-the-art equipment available for patient care and transport, along with personal safety. The patient-care compartment is more condensed than in previous medical helicopters, but it allows for easier patient care and access to medical equipment for treatment. Galbraith said Tulsa Life Flight is different from other medical helicopters because the crews carry blood on all flights. They also have the newest cardiac monitors and intravenous pumps, along with other equipment. Each flight crew member wears flight helmets and each is trained in the use of night-vision equipment, which Galbraith said increases their safety immensely.
As the new crew settles in at its new base, future training between Tulsa Life Flight and LeFlore County Emergency Medical Services is being discussed. Grovdahl said officials from the two entities have talked about combined training exercises, along with case reviews of dual-participation medical emergencies. Grovdahl said he hopes the presence of Tulsa Life Flight will provide resources to bring more advanced training in the area.

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