BEHIND THE SCENES: Flying with Vidant EastCare
While you never want to need them, the sight of a Vidant EastCare helicopter crew landing nearby means that help is only a short flight away.
These unique crews care for patients who need help the most from across Eastern Carolina.
They work in 3-person teams: a pilot, a flight nurse and a flight paramedic or EMT.
A former Army pilot, Carl Glover Jr. said, "this is a whole different type of flying for me."
Flight Nurse Katie Wilfawn worked in an emergency room for 8 years before joining the EastCare team.
"It's very different from a bedside nurse, that is for sure", she said.
With 17 years experience as a paramedic, Ross Miller, said "I'd never been on a helicopter before I started this."
Together, they're a team transporting the sickest patients in Eastern Carolina.
They generally run two kinds of calls.
There are inter-facility calls, transporting people from one medical facility or hospital to another; and then they do scene runs, landing directly on a highway or nearby field where an emergency situation is unfolding.
"Scene runs can be crashes, someone having a heart attack, somebody having a stroke... we go as close as we can, local EMS calls us to a scene, we go in and we get the patient care quicker," said Scott Sampey, a Vidant EastCare program administrator.
"You'd be surprised how much room there is on a highway or even in a field or a hospital pad, some of those places are engineered just for that purpose, obviously, but highways, there's usually room if you're avoiding overpasses, cell phone towers too close to the interstate or even small byways, but we can get into some fairly small places provided there's no obstacles and it's safe to do so," said Glover.
Wilfawn said, "One of my favorite things to do is scene calls, to go get those patients, to assume primary care and really take care of them."
17 pilots, 38 registered nurses, 27 paramedics, 35 EMTs, 10 dispatcher communication specialists and 9 mechanics make up the EastCare team.
The fleet includes 5 helicopters and 8 advanced life support ambulances.
They operate out of numerous bases in ENC, including landing pads at medical centers or airports in Pitt, Beaufort, Nash, Craven and Wayne counties.
From inside one chopper, Wilfawn says "everything an ambulance has we have available to us, plus a few more details."
Those details include a multitude of medications, a cardiac monitor, a non-invasive CPAP and BiPAP machine plus two units of red blood cells and two units of plasma.
The crew is in constant communication with EMS teams on the ground, and the doctors and nursing staff patients are being transported to.
"To be able to get that patient from point A to point B is what our goal is and to get them there safely and hopefully in a better condition than we found them," said Miller.
Their services proved essential last fall, when Hurricane Matthew flooded ENC leaving many roadways impassable.
"During those 6 or 7 days after, when many of the roads weren't open and ambulances couldn't get around to get patients here, we did fly a lot of them. We flew 157 in one week, which is pretty incredible. That's a lot of flying, but we got the mission done and we helped out people," said Scott Sampey.
Of course, even an air medical transport crew can't always fly.
"My role is to make sure the aircraft is operated safely, and that all the parameters for safe operation are met, the weather's good, the crew and I all agree that there's nothing that would prevent us from safely taking a patient flight, that the hazards are identified and that we go from point A to point B without incident," said Pilot Carl Glover Jr..
The decision whether or not to fly is determined based on safety.
"The system is set up so it tries to eliminate the type of patient you're carrying from the decision to fly and go get the patient so when I'm asked to go fly, we get together as a crew we decide if the weather's right, if the aircraft is ready, and we decide all that prior to even hearing what the patient is," said Glover.
The system helps remove emotion from their decision, as much as possible.
"You take the good and the bad everyday," Wilfawn said.
"It's very possible that I could go to a scene and pick someone up that I actually know so the onus is on the crew to make sure that we're doing the best job we can the safest we can to get that patient where they need to go quickly," Glover said.