ICUs In the Sky: The Clock is Always Ticking
Deb Erdley was one of more than 550 critically ill patients in urgent need of very-high-acuity care who were own last year to Shadyside by UPMC’s STAT MedEvac, one of the largest nonprofit medical transport services in the United States.
“We exist to get patients who are very ill—who have very specific, very-high-acuity need — and get them to the right resource for subspecialty services that are not available at any other facility,” according to Frank Guyette, MD, MS, MPH, FACEP, who is medical director of STAT MedEvac. “And for these patients, speed is of the essence. The clock is always ticking.”
STAT MedEvac’s physicians, flight nurses, paramedics, and advanced practice providers; pilots and mechanics; and 23 helicopters and two ambulances service 400 hospitals from 17 bases in most of Pennsylvania, northern West
Virginia, eastern Ohio, southern New York, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
“In addition to providing all of the critical care trans- port for all of UPMC, we run the flight programs for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, for the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and for WellSpan Health, a system serving communities in central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland,” says Dr. Guyette, who was recognized by the Journal of Emergency Medical Services as one of the “EMS 10: Innovators in EMS.”
Pride in quality and safety
Dr. Guyette is proud of the STAT MedEvac team and equipment — as is Jim Houser, CRNP, senior director of medical operations and chief clinical officer. “We set the bar extremely high,” Mr. Houser says. “Each of our clinicians is either a paramedic or a nurse, and they have, on average, 10 or more years of critical care experience. Our teams also have two layers of physician access 24/7 if they run into a problem.”
“The care that we can provide in the helicopter is at a level that would meet or exceed the care that can be provided in an ICU,” Dr. Guyette states.
STAT MedEvac is in fact an airline. “We hold and maintain our own FAA Part 135 air carrier certificate,” says Mr. Houser, “so that we have full control of the quality on the aviation side in parallel to the medical side. We operate and maintain our own helicopters and train our pilots, who come from a variety of backgrounds and are all highly experienced. We are proud to acknowledge that most of them also are military veterans. Each helicopter has its own mechanics, who also work for us.”
They are also, he points out, “some of the quietest helicopters available because of the Fenestron design of the tail rotor. The aircraft themselves minimize noise, as do the flight patterns that we use in and out of the hospitals. At Shadyside, we can take advantage of the busway to mitigate some of the noise, but not completely eliminate it. Occasionally, because of weather, we may have to deviate from some of those patterns that have given us the best noise mitigation.”