11/23/04 — Duplin will get helicopter flights for some patients

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Duplin will get helicopter flights for some patients

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 23, 2004 2:00 PM

KENANSVILLE -- If you're seriously injured in Duplin County after mid-December, a helicopter could be heading toward you at the same time as the nearest ambulance.

The program is called auto-launch, and it is designed to get people fast to a hospital that can handle serious injuries.

This is the way it works:

When someone suffers life-threatening injuries in an accident, the Duplin County dispatcher will contact East Care in Greenville.

East Care sends out a helicopter. Meanwhile, local emergency providers assess your condition and report to the helicopter crew. The crew then learns whether it should go directly to the accident, meet at the hospital or go back to Greenville.

Duplin County's Emergency Medical Service has been working on getting the program since early September, says its director, Curtis Brock.

"We feel it will enhance patient care," he said. "They won't send you a bill just because they come. If there's no pick-up, there's no charge for the trip. You won't get a bill unless their service is needed."

The service has been needed often lately, because Duplin General Hospital has no trauma surgeons. Wayne Memorial Hospital does, but it has no helicopters to get the patients there fast enough.

The next closest hospital is Pitt County, where East Care is based.

"If they auto-launch at the same time we're dispatched, they can be here in 20 minutes," said Brock. "And if we have to extricate" a person from a car, "they can be here by the time the patient is extricated."

Emergency workers are already training for the auto-launch program. The reason for it, says Training Officer Jeremy Hill, is because of the high volume of trauma calls that are coming into 911.

"I think the calls are increasing because of the speed on the interstate, and there are a lot of accidents on the rural roads," he said. "There are a lot of curvy roads in Duplin County. The speed limit on I-40 is 70 miles per hour."

He said something called "the golden hour" starts the moment a crash occurs and the patient is injured. Ideally, the emergency providers are able to get the patient to a trauma surgeon during the first 60 minutes -- "the golden hour."

"Every minute past the golden hour decreases the patient's chance of a 100 percent recovery," said Hill. He said a two-day training course the Duplin emergency providers took last week with the East Care crew is going to help them meet the golden hour rule.

The training covered how to activate the East Care service, when to do it and the appropriate way to set up a landing zone. They learned how to communicate the exact nature of the injuries to the East Care crew, and they learned helicopter safety.

The emergency providers load the patient while the helicopter blade and the tail rotor are still running, and everyone knows the hazards of the blades, said Hill. During the course, they practiced "hot-loading" the patient, or loading the patient while the blades were running.

"We felt it's important to practice it before we activate the auto-launch program," said Hill. Some emergency medical services participate in auto-launch, but most do not, he said.

Duplin is doing it because of the distance it takes to get a patient to a "level one" trauma center. A level one trauma center has one of its trauma surgeons in the emergency room 24 hours a day.

Implementation of the program in Duplin County will come after one more piece of the puzzle comes together.

On Dec. 8, Hill will meet with the fire chiefs in the county.

By mid-December, he expects to have the program fully implemented.

"Here in Duplin County we're going to strive for the best possible care for the patients that need emergency services, and we'll continue to work on programs like the auto-launch and continue to increase the service that Duplin County EMS provides," he said. "We're working every day to increase the services we can provide."