Baptist LifeFlight Celebrates 30 Years Lee Rumbley, BA, REMT-P, CMTE
n September 16, 2004, Hurricane Ivan made landfall on the U.S. mainland near Gulf Shores, Ala. Just 40 miles away in Pensacola, Fla., the destructive force from Ivan’s powerful eastern side would wreak havoc on the picturesque Gulf side community. Situated less than 2 miles from Pensacola Bay, Baptist Hospital suffered significant damage from the storm. In spite of the damage sustained, however, Baptist LifeFlight began serving the community the following day, even adding an additional helicopter to meet the increased demands of the area as a result of the extensive damage to roads and bridges. Both Baptist Hospital and LifeFlight continued to provide service without even the most basic services, such as running water and electricity. Flight volume increased from an average of 5 flights per day to 17 flights per day for a 10-day period after the storm. This scenario was repeated less than 6 months later when Hurricane Dennis delivered a second direct hit on the Pensacola area. The value of air medical transport after natural disasters was demonstrated yet again when LifeFlight participated in the evacuation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Operating from its bases in Pensacola and Mobile, LifeFlight transported over 75 patients out of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the days following that storm. Each time LifeFlight responded, the aircraft was loaded with water, food, and supplies that could be dropped in the storm-damaged area, and then patients were loaded for the return trip.
Providing service in the face of adversity is nothing new for LifeFlight. In fact, you could say that the program began as a result of hardship. In 1977, when flight operations began, many areas along the Florida Panhandle were accessible only by boat. Because the beautiful beaches drew visitors from all over the world, the need for air medical helicopter transport became evident. LifeFlight made its first flight on May 14, 1977, becoming the third hospital-based helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) program in the United States and the first in Florida. May 2007 marked the program’s 30th anniversary of service. The current service area consists of the Florida Panhandle, south Alabama, and coastal Mississippi. LifeFlight has continued to thrive despite threats such as natural disasters, competition, and increasing costs of operation. The service operates as a department of Baptist Hospital. Baptist Health Care is made up of four hospitals and a number of clinics in the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama. Baptist has been recognized as one of Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the past 6 years and, in 2003, Baptist Hospital received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. LifeFlight operates in accordance with Baptist Hospital’s five Pillars of Excellence, as follows.
Best People LifeFlight employs in excess of 75 crewmembers. Crew composition consists of a flight paramedic and flight nurse. Many crew members hold dual licenses. Applicants must Air Medical Journal 26:4
have a minimum of 3 years’ experience. Flight paramedics come from high-volume 9-1-1 systems across the program’s response area. Flight nurses are required to have at least 1 year each in critical care and the emergency department. Additionally, flight nurses are required to hold at least an EMT–B certification, because 75% of LifeFlight’s responses are scene calls. We are very proud of our heritage and long service to the region. We believe that quality people make the difference in our success. Our crews are committed to this area and see their contribution as more than just a job. Communications supervisor Eddie Ishmael is an example of this dedication. Eddie, an original crewmember, is also the first hospital-based African-American flight paramedic in the United States. His commitment to the people we serve is demonstrated by his 30 years of dedication to this program and its mission. Medical direction is provided by Drs. Greg Smith and Jim Leker. Although the flight crew operates from an extensive body of detailed protocols, both physicians are available for medical direction 24/7. Additionally, both medical directors fly as second crewmembers as needed. In 2003, Leker was presented with the Medical Director of the Year Award from the Air Medical Physician Association during the Air Medical Transport Conference in Reno, Nev.
just before local proms. Drama student volunteers are moulaged and placed inside wrecked vehicles supplied by local wrecking yards. Area fire, police, and EMS providers respond to the “scene” and extricate and transport the victims. LifeFlight normally transports one “patient” from the scene before the demonstration ends. This year, LifeFlight participated in multiple Prom Promise exercises in all three states within its response area. The program also provides first aid coverage for the Blue Angels’ annual air show at Pensacola Beach, which draws more than 100,000 attendees. The LifeFlight LifeSaver award was developed to recognize members of the community who have gone above and beyond to help save lives. Award plaques are presented to hospital employees, EMS providers, and citizens who have helped to make a difference in bringing about positive patient outcomes. Recipients have included three middle school students who used their boat to save the life of a kayaker who had been thrown overboard, a local minister who devoted an area of his church property as a designated community landing zone (LZ), and a local paramedic who was retiring after 30 years in EMS. Most recently, members of a rural police department and ambulance service were recognized for their part in resuscitating a pair of 2-year-old drowning victims.
LifeFlight partners with hospitals and public safety agencies throughout its response area to provide Prom Promise for local high school students. This exercise endeavors to drive home the dangers of drinking and driving and is held
A major focus of the program is customer service and satisfaction. As a participant in the Press Ganey and Associates air medical transport customer service survey, LifeFlight entered at No. 1 in the nation and held that position for 20 consecutive
quarters. In addition to the Press Ganey survey, customers are given an e-mail address for suggestions or complaints, and submissions receive follow-up within 24 hours. LifeFlight’s safety record is second-to-none in the industry. Satellite tracking was added to aircraft in 2005. As a benefit of a new vendor partnership with PHI, night vision goggles (NVG) were added to one aircraft earlier this year, with a second following in July. LifeFlight is the first air medical program in Alabama, Mississippi, and north Florida to introduce NVG technology. The program is enthusiastic about the safety margin that this new equipment will provide. LifeFlight’s outreach education program provides certification classes in basic cardiac life support (BCLS), advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), pediatric advanced life support (PALS), and trauma nursing core course (TNCC). Additionally, classes in airway management, aircraft safety, and other requested medical topics are made available to customers throughout the region at no cost to them. Continuing education credits are provided through Baptist’s education department.
Growth In 2004, a flight program that had served the Mobile, Ala., area for years announced that it was closing for financial reasons. Although several programs expressed interest in opening a base in the area, LifeFlight was chosen to assume the previous program’s certificate of need (CON). An increased marketing focus increased flight volume by over 50% in the first year. In 2006, a third base was placed in service in the rural Alabama
community of Evergreen. All expansion has been carefully considered, and only the areas demonstrating need and having no preexisting air medical assets are chosen for development.
Financial In its first 25 years of existence, LifeFlight consistently operated at a financial loss. In 2001, the program enlisted the help of Golden Hour Data Systems for billing and data management. Operational changes also were made, and a focused marketing plan was initiated to increase appropriate flight volume. Since implementing those changes, the program has operated in a cost-neutral or revenue-producing status. Throughout its 30 years, LifeFlight has used American Eurocopter aircraft. The initial aircraft was an Alouette. Subsequent aircraft included a BO 105 and an AS355 Twin Star. We now fly a mixed fleet consisting of an EC135, a BK 117, and an AS350 B2 Astar. Moving forward, LifeFlight will continue to provide the highest quality patient care coupled with outstanding customer service. By focusing on Baptist Hospital’s philosophy of “Doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons,” LifeFlight plans to continue as a leader in air medical transport for its second 30 years. Lee Rumbley, BA, REMT-P, CMTE, is the outreach coordinator for Baptist LifeFlight in Pensacola, Florida. 1067-991X/$30.00 Copyright 2007 Air Medical Journal Associates doi:10.1067/j.amj.2007.04.008
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