Air ambulance calls spike amid COVID-19 pandemic
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Doctors warned of a dangerous milestone approaching in Nebraska as COVID-19 cases surge; compromised quality healthcare. That milestone is here.
As record-breaking virus numbers threaten the availability of hospital beds and as healthcare workers explain, the pandemic continues to push them to physical and mental exhaustion. The irony though, as things get worse, they’re needed more, and that goes for all first responders, including a group often overlooked: flight paramedics.
In Nebraska, on any given day, a dream team of healthcare heroes from Air Methods could be called to life flight a person in need of critical care.
Joshua Kendrick is a flight paramedic who works alongside Alisha Ponser, a flight nurse. Together with the expertise of a pilot, who humbly referred to himself as “just an Uber driver,” the group springs into action as the first and last resort for someone in need of life-saving medical attention.
“If they’re critical and they need advanced life-support, ventilatory support, or medication support — that’s where we would come in,” Kendrick said, adding that a patient doesn’t have to be a certain age or fit a profile to be a candidate for this service. If a hospital calls, sounding their alarm, they dispatch — no questions asked. If critical need of care is eligible for this service, there’s no set profile for a person or group of people
Air Methods is often called in by small hospitals who don’t have the specialized tools needed in emergencies.
“Rural areas are actually underserved from an advanced-care standpoint,” Kendrick said.
But during this pandemic, their calls have more than doubled. In October alone, they transported 90 COVID-positive patients.
“Sometimes their lungs are so damaged, and their bodies have been fighting so hard for so long, so we have to completely sedate them,” Ponser said.
This air ICU has just about everything: IV pumps, meds, blood, needles, and ventilators.
And when the alarm sounds, the crew has about 15 minutes to properly pack supplies, garb up in PPE, communicate with each other, watch for other aircraft and — most importantly — care for someone while flying nearly 200 miles per hour.
“If we hit the button and the ventilator stops, that’s not good for the patient. So we gotta be very careful to get that done appropriately, safely,” Kendrick said.
It’s intensely detailed work that requires a rare set of skills and vast training — out of sight and mind for many who don’t even know they rely on this crew to make sure their loved one comes home.
“What these guys do day in a day out is nothing short of heroic,” said Kevin Hallam, an Air Methods executive whose connection to this resource runs much deeper.
“At 16 years old, my dad had a heart attack. He had to be life-flighted to Omaha, and I got an extra 25 years with him because of it,” Hallam said.
The critical care on these flights doesn’t just end after a patient is dropped off.
They also “offload (patients) onto another bed, follow them all the way down to the receiving unit, whether that’s an emergency room or ICU; give a full bedside report,” Kendrick said.
But this care is becoming a challenge to maintain. On average, Air Methods completes up to five flights a week. Now, they’re at 10 — and this crew needs your help.
“As a community, we gotta step up and wear our masks,” Hallam said. “It is getting to a point of a little bit of worry that these bigger hospitals are starting to get really full.”
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