Highland News Leader

New rescue copter use expected to soar

Officials cut the ribbon on the new HSHS Rescue Flight helicopter, which is stationed at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland.
Officials cut the ribbon on the new HSHS Rescue Flight helicopter, which is stationed at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland. Courtesy photo

From the time it was put into service in late January to the time the official ribbon cutting was held last Tuesday, the HSHS Rescue Flight helicopter had launched more than a dozen times, and that number continues to take off.

“Since the start of the program, we have successfully completed over a dozen transports in the community for both inter-facility and scene transport,” said Brian Leonard, spokesman for Air Methods Corporation, which runs the service. “We are confident that the program will continue to experience success in servicing the surrounding community moving forward.”

Having a helicopter based at St. Joseph’s Hospital is a true benefit for the community, said Amy Liefer, director of communications at St. Joseph’s Highland.

“It will add to the level of emergency care and safety for residents,” Liefer said.

Last week’s ribbon cutting in Highland was held despite the fact that the helicopter was off site for protection from the weather.

“The wind and snow didn’t cooperate with us today, but it certainly didn’t diminish the excitement of those at our event,” Liefer said.

However, the new helicopter will normally be stationed at St. Joseph’s Highland, serving Highland, as well as St. Elizabeth’s Belleville, and St. Joseph’s-Breese. Ribbon cuttings were also held last week in Breese and Belleville.

“Air Methods has a long-standing relationship with HSHS, and I’m excited to welcome the Rescue Flight to the family,” Air Methods regional vice president Marty Delaney said. “It’s exciting to be here and be a part of the community.”

By having a locally based helicopter, patients needing specialized care will no longer have to wait for a helicopter to commute from St. Louis, cutting patient transfer times by as much as 11 minutes.

“It will fundamentally change life-saving ability,” said Jim Dover, president and CEO of HSHS Southern Illinois Division, which includes the three local hospitals being served by the new helicopter.

Minutes saved with the new helicopter service provides opportunities to save heart muscle in cardiac patients and brain tissue in patients with stroke or neurological symptoms, officials said.

“Eleven minutes means a lot when you are saving heart muscle or brain tissue. It really does,” said Peggy Sebastian, former CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland, who is now the CEO of St. Elizabeth’s.

“When looking at patients who are transferred for cardiac and stroke symptoms, we realized we had a great opportunity to streamline that process,” said Julie LaFrance, director of planning and operations at HSHS St. Joseph’s Highland. “HSHS Rescue Flight will complement our STAT Heart Program with protocols that save heart muscle and improve door-to-door time from the St. Joseph’s Highland Emergency Department to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.”

Having a helicopter based in the community also allows for quicker access to care for on scene emergencies and reduces the transport time to a trauma center.

HSHS St. Joseph’s-Breese president and CEO Paulette Evans said it takes only 5 or 6 minutes for HSHS Rescue Flight to travel from Highland to Breese, as opposed to the 18 minutes it takes for a helicopter to arrive from St. Louis.

“That time savings is very important for patients in dire need of medical attention,” Evans said.

The helicopter base is staffed with four pilots, four paramedics, and four flight nurses, who rotate shifts.

“That’s amazing for our size community,” Sebastian said.

The helicopter is brand new.

“It has every piece of technology that’s available at this point in time,” Delaney said.

The helicopter is staffed with a pilot, paramedic, and flight nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A maintenance crew for the helicopter is employed.

“Having an asset here in the community really adds a sense of security,” Delaney said.