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LifeNet Inc. recently earned its fifth accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services, and its helicopter in Hot Springs recently transported its 1,500th patient with no accidents -- marking 36 years of successful helicopter transports for the nonprofit ambulance service provider.

"There are not many helicopter programs out there that can say that, and it's really a testament to our pilots, their commitment to safety, and our crews, and they work together," LifeNet Director of Marketing Tina Bell said.

Being able to get the community the critical care they need quickly is probably the biggest value of having a medical helicopter in the community, Bell said.

"In any community, having a medical helicopter ... is almost like having an emergency room or an ICU right there on scene, so for critical patients it's especially important to have access to that when it's needed," she said. "Additionally, we have a lot of rural areas around here, and even though our ambulances can get out to those areas, there are certain things like stroke, cardiac arrest or certain traumatic events where every second matters."

Bell said LifeNet has a phenomenal ground ambulance program, but when time is of the essence for certain medical needs, a helicopter is needed.

The helicopter also has more equipment and medicine than the ground ambulances, she said, and crews of flight medics and nurses experienced in at least three years of critical care. She said it is good to have these crew members because when the conditions are not right to fly they can assist in critical care transports in the ground ambulances.

The helicopter covers mainly Garland and Hot Spring counties, but really goes whatever distance is requested, pilot Jon Fretz said.

"We could end up in Dallas or Shreveport, but we typically like to stay within 90 miles or so," he said. "If we get too far out of our service area that leaves it uncovered, and we like to stay here for our local people."

Bell said it is not uncommon for the helicopter to be requested in surrounding rural counties that don't have any other helicopter.

Bell said the patient's accident is what dictates the medical facility where the patient is taken. In the case of a trauma accident, the pilots use TraumaCon, a system that instructs them to transport the patient to the medical facility best equipped to treat their injury. She said most transports are to Hot Springs' hospitals or Little Rock hospitals.

The helicopter was brought to Hot Springs in 2013. It was the only medical helicopter in the city at the time and is the second helicopter base for LifeNet. Bell said the helicopter averages approximately one flight a day.

LifeNet's first helicopter base is located in Texarkana, Arkansas, and has transported over 13,000 patients.

Although these are the only two LifeNet bases, the helicopters are operated by Air Methods -- a company conducting over 300 bases nationwide.

Because they are not operated by LifeNet firsthand, Fretz said the pilots do not have to be medically trained.

"When they call us for a flight, our communications department would not elaborate at all what the flight is for. They'll just say 'we have a scene response, can you do it?' They're not going to (give us specifics of the tragedy) because then that could alter in our decision, the emotional insight we may have. We need to just go."

Bell said, "While our company's mantra is 'the patient comes first,' the only thing that really comes in front of that is safety. Safety always comes first in what we do."

Local on 04/15/2019

Print Headline: LifeNet helicopter touching the sky with accomplishments

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