Critical care in the air and on the scene
With NJ State Police pilots Bobby Bell and Tony Zedonek looking on, John Rogers, RN (center) and Steve Hodsdon (right) show HealthSavvy editor Holly Sleppy SouthStar.
The grass flattens and sways as SouthStar's helicopter blades spin at an incredible speed. Ready for takeoff, the crew dons their safety helmets and prepares for a mission. Adrenaline fuels them as they run through the scene in their minds:
It's a motor vehicle crash. There's an 8-year-old boy trapped inside. How much medication will he need? What types of procedures may be necessary?
When the helicopter lands, the crew gets out. They're ready to do what they've been trained to do. Save a life.
SouthStar is part of the New Jersey Emergency Medical Service Helicopter Response Program and licensed by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Staffed by both Virtua Mobile Intensive Care Unit (MICU) flight nurses and medics, and New Jersey State Police (NJSP) pilots, SouthStar covers all of South Jersey, from Burlington and Ocean County to the tip of Cape May. Though you never know when you may need them, there are many reasons you should feel safer that they're here in South Jersey.
Highly qualified flight nurses and medics
SouthStar flight nurses and medics are specially trained and certified to work in the physically demanding air medical environment. Virtua flight medic Steve Hodsdon has 23 years of experience as a medic, and is certified by the National Flight Paramedic Association.
"Medic training is extremely comprehensive," says Hodsdon. "In addition to hours spent in the classroom learning about disease management and emergency techniques, medics also participate in clinical experiences in the hospital. They actually work in every major department like labor and delivery, intensive care and the operating room."
Flight nurse John Rogers, RN, started out as a medic and sought additional training to become a flight nurse. As a certified emergency nurse, he carries the same critical care certifications as Hodsdon, and additionally is licensed to handle blood for patients who need it. And, both Hodsdon and Rogers participate in continuing education courses in emergency and critical care, as well as teach them.
An impeccable safety record
While SouthStar boasts a highly qualified flight team, it also has an impeccable safety record. "New Jersey's Helicopter Response Program started in 1988," says Scott Kasper, Virtua's corporate director of emergency medical services. "And SouthStar has maintained an impressive safety record for 18 years."
But that's not the case with all emergency transport services. Just this year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for new safety standards after an 18-month study revealed a high number of fatal accidents among transport aircraft. The NTSB investigators partly blame private medevac firms that compete for jobs, and, therefore, fly in more risky conditions.
"SouthStar follows NJSP strict weather requirements to ensure the safety of the flight team and patient," says Kasper. "If we can't get to a scene and back safely, we're no good to our patients." For day flights, there must be an 800-foot ceiling (height of the clouds above the ground) and two-mile visibility (visible distance in front of the aircraft). For night flights, it's increased to a 1,000-foot ceiling and three-mile visibility. As an added precaution, SouthStar always flies with two NJSP pilots.
Each mission has the same goal
With daily excitement, variety and new challenges, SouthStar's crew embraces their job with a unique enthusiasm. But they never forget their purpose. "We're just one part of an emergency response system that includes the police, EMS, MICU and trauma teams," says Rogers. "We all have one goal, and it's saving lives."
SouthStar Vital Statistics:
* Averages five flights a day
* Completes more than 1,000 missions each year
* Flies a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter that's capable of going 180 miles per hour
* Crew members complete 100 hours of continuing education and training each year