Crystal City • The first patient aboard Survival One, the new medical helicopter based at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, was a car accident victim who was taken from the hospital to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
That call came Nov. 13, three days after the helicopter went into service.
Transferring patients to hospitals with advanced trauma units will be one function of the helicopter, which also will respond to emergencies such as accidents.
The helicopter is owned by Survival Flight of Glendale, Ariz. And while ARCH Air Medical Service and Air Evac Lifeteam have served Jefferson County for many years, neither company has a helicopter based in the county.
"It's a long time coming," said Jodi Warren, a flight nurse who was on Survival One's inaugural flight. She has worked in emergency rooms for 10 years, including the one at Jefferson Regional.
Critical minutes are wasted transporting patients from rural areas and waiting for transportation to arrive. Emergency responders in such areas are often hampered by the long distances to medical centers — a problem experienced in Jefferson County, which has seen a population spike in the last decade, with people moving further away from St. Louis and off major roads.
"It brings with it the inherent problem of traffic, and the infrastructure of roads typically doesn't keep up with the growth of the community," said Chris Millard, the chief operating officer of Survival Flight.
The helicopter is not owned by Jefferson Regional Medical Center. The arrangement that brought it to the hospital is largely because of a previous working relationship in Arizona between Millard and Lloyd Ford, who was the hospital's CEO and president when the deal was inked, but resigned on Sept. 15.
"We're excited that they're here," said Blake Temple, the hospital's executive vice president. He said it will be invaluable for linking his regional hospital to others in the area.
The helicopter can take patients to any hospital equipped for helicopter landings. Other helicopters will continue to land at Jefferson Regional. The hospital provides a room for the flight crew, and the helicopter sports the hospital's name on its side in return. Survival Flight handles all patient billings and helicopter maintenance.
Each flight is staffed with a pilot, medic and nurse. There is room for one patient and a patient's family member to ride along.
Crews — six nurse and six medics — started training in September. In addition to being medical professionals, crew members also must function as radio operators, safety officers and an aviation flight crew, said Kurtis Bell, who has 17 years of experience as a flight nurse. He lives in Phoenix and helped train the new flight crew.
'It's very smooth'
Last week, nurses Warren and Bell were aboard the copter, as was Aaron Artz, a flight medic. Ron Mothersbaugh, who learned to fly helicopters while serving during the Vietnam War, was the pilot.
The crew made several stops to show the helicopter to emergency responders and to debunk misconceptions that the helicopter would only transport patients to Jefferson Regional Medical Center.
The first stop was a field about eight miles south of Festus, roughly a 12-minute drive from the hospital. It took about three minutes by air.
Paramedics and emergency medical technicians from Jefferson R-7 Fire Protection District and the Joachim-Plattin Ambulance District were on the ground.
All were experienced in working with medical helicopters, but they were able to look inside the new air ambulance, meet the crew and practice loading a patient.
Kevin Morrison, an EMT for Jefferson R-7, played the role of patient. The crews worked together to get him off a ground ambulance, onto the helicopter's stretcher and onto the chopper.
"It's very smooth," said Morrison after he took off a neck brace. "It's not bad at all."
The Joachim-Plattin district covers 180 square miles in the southeastern part of Jefferson County and includes Festus, Herculaneum and Pevely, said administrator Curt Stueve.
He said having a helicopter based nearby will drastically cut response times to rural parts of his district and improve a patient's chances of survival.
"The sooner they can get to a Level 1 trauma center, the better chances of their outcome," Stueve said.
The crew then flew to Farmington Regional Airport and met with the Farmington Fire Department. Next, they went a few miles south to Mineral Area Regional Medical Center and walked across the street to meet members of the St. Francois Ambulance District.
The crew took a lap over St. Joe State Park, a popular place to ride off-road vehicles and a source of many injuries, before heading back to the Farmington airport to refuel and return to Crystal City.
They returned to their crew room, ready for the next call.