Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

May 3, 2013

Racing to beat ‘the Golden Hour’

Air ambulances speed patients to trauma centers.

By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer

— In 2004, Elizabeth Cierzniak’s father, Bill Kelley, suffered a brain hemorrhage. He was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph Hospital and then flown to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

“I don’t live very far from Methodist, so I was able to make it to the hospital a few minutes after he arrived,” she said. “My dad was talking to the doctors, but slipped into semi-consciousness a few minutes later.”

Cierzniak said it was touch and go for several months, but her father fully recovered and lived a full, active life until he died of pneumonia in 2007.

“We had three wonderful years,” she said. “I’m confident if he did not have access to immediate medical treatment he would have died or spent the rest of his life in a nursing home.”

The goal for area hospitals and emergency responders is to get a patient with traumatic injuries to a trauma center within the first hour. Those 60 minutes are crucial, increasing a patient’s chances of survival dramatically.

A recent study conducted by the Indiana Department of Health notes a need for additional trauma centers, which are currently located in Indianapolis, South Bend, Fort Wayne and Evansville, but most of the state has quick access to one of 16 air ambulances.

The Howard County region is covered by air ambulances located in Lafayette, Rochester, Muncie, Anderson, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.

Depending on weather conditions, a patient can be transported to either a Fort Wayne or Indianapolis hospital within 45 minutes. It takes up to 75 minutes to transport a patient by ground.

Where the patient is when the air transport is needed will determine which ambulance service is called and where the patient likely will be taken. St. Joseph Hospital uses StatFlight to transport patients to St. Vincent, and Community Howard uses LifeLine to transfer patients to Wishard, both in Indianapolis.

Nick Capozzoli, director of the Howard County Dispatch Center, said county protocol is to contact Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne for an air ambulance. The hospital has an air ambulance stationed in Rochester.

“The incident commander makes the decision on whether or not to evacuate a patient by helicopter,” he said. “We notify Samaritan Flight to be on standby or en route. Once the medics arrive they could decide to disregard the call for the ambulance.”

Mike Durr, EMS director at St. Joseph Hospital and a member of the Howard County EMS Committee, said Parkview Hospital was selected because of the air ambulance based in Rochester.

“We did a study of who could get to certain areas of the county quickest,” Durr said. “It was determined Samaritan Flight would have the fastest response time. We use StatFlight out of Anderson and LifeLine from Muncie as the back-ups.”

He said it normally takes an air ambulance 20 minutes to arrive to an accident scene in Howard County and 20 minutes to fly to Methodist or 25 minutes to Parkview.

“Dispatch determines the closest helicopter,” Durr said.

Parkview Hospital trained all the ambulance crews and area fire departments on securing a landing zone, he said.

In 2006, there were 8,119 patients suffering from traumatic injuries transported to trauma centers in Indiana; 5,062 of those patients were transported by air ambulance and 3,057 by ground ambulance.

Keith Sherry, director of MedFlight in South Bend, said the transport service can cover an area of 150 miles, but the normal range is between 50 and 75 miles.

“The travel time depends on the head and tail winds, weight of the fuel and patients,” Sherry said. “The goal is get the patient to the closest trauma center within 60 minutes.”

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