Athens Review, Athens, Texas

January 8, 2013

Trading up

ETMC Athens getting chopper upgrade

Special to the Review
The Athens Review

Athens — The East Texas Medical Center Regional Health-care System this week unveiled two new emergency transport helicopters, valued at over $9 million, to provide patients in East Texas with faster access to the region’s only level 1 trauma center at ETMC Tyler.

The Eurocopter EC135 P2+ helicopters will be stationed at ETMC Tyler and Titus Regional Medical Center in Mount Pleasant.

The EC135 that currently is stationed in Tyler is being upgraded and will be positioned at ETMC Athens. This allows ETMC to provide high quality care and rapid transport to residents within a 150-mile radius around each helicopter base, covering 38 counties in East Texas.

“Since 1985, ETMC Air 1 has been flying the skies of East Texas and saving thousands of lives,” said Art Chance, vice president of operations for ETMC. “Reducing transportation time to ETMC Tyler’s level 1 trauma center, helps severely injured or seriously ill patients arrive within the ‘golden hour,’ significantly improving their chances for recovery.”

Jim Speier, operations coordinator, said safety is the focus on every flight. “Our goal is to safely complete each mission without having any issues. The new helicopters have updated safety features, including a terrain avoidance warning system that gives an audible voice alert message if an obstacle appears along the flight path. They also have a traffic collision avoidance system to warn the pilot of another aircraft in close proximity.”

Other features include live weather radar, which allows the crew to monitor area weather systems; an OuterLink satellite tracking system, which allows the communications center to track the entire flight; a black box recorder system, which stores critical data regarding each flight; night vision goggles; an automatic flight control system to assist the pilot; an improved environmental system, which allows for better patient comfort and a wire strike protection system that cuts power lines in the event of a wire strike.

The helicopters have updated medical equipment, including a new ventilator, which allows medical personnel to better treat patients of all ages. The overall interior has more room for equipment storage and is more user-friendly. The cabin also includes improved lighting, dual redundant oxygen storage systems and a restraint system to help when carrying larger patients.

“Each aircraft is staffed with a pilot, nurse and paramedic who are ready 24 hours, 7 days a week,” said program director Terri Rowden. “Air 1 is especially beneficial to our rural areas. We average 1,500 transports a year.”

The program is endorsed by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport and was the first program in Texas to receive accreditation in 1994.

ETMC Air 1 can fly up to 158 miles per hour, can transport up to two patients at a time and can fly as far as Houston on a single fuel load.