SOUTH BEND – You've likely seen them in the sky, transporting the most critical patients to area hospitals. But there's a lot you probably don't know about medical helicopters. Monday WSBT’s cameras took an exclusive ride with MedFlight, one of the area’s only medical helicopters.
“I guess the best way to describe it is every time I go and clock in I feel privileged,” said Flight Paramedic Rob Rose. “I would do it for free. I can’t believe they pay us to do this.”
A full time Firefighter/Paramedic for South Bend, Rose works 24 hour shifts for the city, then goes to work at his part time job on MedFlight. In fact, most MedFlight crew members work for the air ambulance in a part time capacity.
“It’s always tough when you're away from your kids and stuff and your families. It's kind of a calling. We enjoy doing it, and our families, I think understand why we're doing it.”
“We’re a team,” added Flight Nurse Heidi Wiskotoni. “We don't have a doctor flying with us. We have to make judgment calls, critical decisions together continuously throughout our flight and we're taking care of the sickest of sick patients.”
Since 2006, MedFlight has transported more than 1,100 patients. About 75 percent of those are hospital-to-hospital transports. The other 25 percent are from serious accidents.
But who makes the decision to call MedFlight when it’s time to transport a patient and what protocol do they have to follow? Part of that is actually up to first responders, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and even law enforcement officers on the scene and the other part is actually governed by federal law.
“Federal law says the sending physician must determine the mode of transport [when transporting a patient from one hospital to another]. It’s not as simple when you talk about accident scene response,” said MedFlight Program Director Rodney Logan.
The federal government recently issued a Field Decision Triage guide to help those first responders determine when they should call a medical helicopter. A good rule of thumb they use, said Logan, is to call for the closest available medical helicopter if life saving care is not available within a 20 minute drive.
There are many restrictions and requirements just to be on the MedFlight crew. When applicants go in for their job interview to work on MedFlight, they have to step on a scale and weigh less than 210 pounds to even go on with the interview process. They must maintain that weight throughout their time with the company.
Although MedFlight crews are on duty 24 hours a day and work out of their quarters at South Bend Regional Airport, several factors determine if they can actually fly. The first is weather. The pilot needs to have good visibility and high enough cloud ceiling to take off. Another is the patient’s weight. Since helicopters are so condensed, there are strict weight guidelines for how much it can carry. MedFlight cannot transport a patient weighing more than 450 lbs.
MedFlight generally flies within a 75 mile radius and in the 5 years it’s been in service, the helicopter has served more than 20 area hospitals. The next closest medical helicopter is in Rochester – it flies for Fort Wayne’s Samaritan Hospital.
There are currently 19 medical helicopters serving Indiana.
Both the State of Indiana and the City of South Bend honored MedFlight and its personnel Monday for five years of service to the region.