So far this year, Norfolk, Virginia-based Sentara Healthcare's Nightingale Air Ambulance has missed 292 calls due to bad weather, but with the addition of nine IFR landing sites approved by the FAA, the air ambulance organization's EC-145 will be able to respond to a significant number of those inclement weather calls for either EMS or transferring patients between hospitals, the company said.
Denise Baylous, a flight nurse with Nightingale and the program manager for the IFR sites, said that Nightingale could have responded to 30 to 40 percent of those 292 calls with the IFR landing sites. The IFR upgrade to the EC-145 cost about $200,000, while the IFR routes cost about $160,000 to develop, she said. Nightingale, which owns the EC-145, contracts with Louisiana-based Metro Aviation for pilot and mechanic services.
"We strategically looked at our service area, the EMS providers, as well as the hospitals we serve," Baylous said of the two-year effort Sentara completed in identifying the nine IFR sites and getting them approved by the FAA. Steve Hickok of Alabama-based Hickock & Associates helped in developing the IFR routes and conducting safety testing around obstacles, and the Nightingale and Metro Aviation flight teams are finishing their IFR training, Baylous said.
The nine IFR landing sites are likely to be operational by the end of the year, she said.
"It's safety, first and foremost," Baylous said of the significance of the nine IFR landing sites. "We've been in operation for 36 years and had 22,000 missions with no accidents. What we do is very dangerous. This [IFR capability] provides another level of safety for us to make sure we can complete the mission. It's also a community service, as we partner with EMS and hospitals to streamline the care received."
Nightingale flew its first EMS mission in 1982 and flies more than 700 missions per year. The company's home base is Sentara Norfolk General Hospital — the area's only Level I trauma center, but Nightingale flies a 125-mile radius around Norfolk and handles trauma, cardiac, neurological, medical, pediatric and obstetric patients. Nightingale also works with Navy and Coast Guard crews out of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, when the services need to transport Level I trauma patients to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
Nightingale acquired its $7.2 million EC-145 in 2011, and $3.5 million of the funds were raised from the community through the Sentara Foundation Hampton Roads. The EC-145 is the fourth EMS aircraft that Nightingale has used since 1982. The first two aircraft were a Bell 206 LongRanger and a Eurocopter BO 105, followed by a BK 117 in 1996, and the EC-145 in 2011.
The BK 117 is still in operation as a spare for EMS missions, according to Nightingale.
Over the years, the helos used by Nightingale have provided EMS services in hard-to-reach locations. For example, after the derailment of a Norfolk Southern Railroad J611 steam train on May 18, 1986 in the Great Dismal Swamp, the Eurocopter BO 105, using the railroad tracks as a landing site, made four flights to the scene to transport patients to Norfolk hospitals. At the time, Robert Claytor, the then-CEO of Norfolk Southern, was at the helm of the train for an employee appreciation event.