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St. Mary's expands operations

Jan. 10, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

IRONTON -- Construction is nearing completion on a building to house a helicopter at the St. Mary's Medical campus in Ironton and provide the area with 24/7 access to emergency air response.

Air-Evac Life Team will operate the helicopter out of Ironton when it begins operations around March 1, said Tim Parnell, vice president of support services, planning and development for St. Mary's Medical Center.

About 15 full- and part-time employees will work at the Air-Evac business, said Stuart Baldwin, program director at the Air-Evac location in Portsmouth.

"We have 112 locations nationwide including six in Ohio and six in West Virginia," Baldwin said. "We are licensed to serve Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. We have two pilots who work 12-hour shifts, a full-time paramedic, a full-time nurse and a mechanic."

St. Mary's always planned to locate a helipad at the medical campus in Ironton, but later started negotiating with the Missouri firm to locate a helicopter and personnel at the site along Ohio 141. The company already operates medical helicopters in the Portsmouth area as well as in Logan, W.Va., said Paul Lageman, director of emergency and trauma services for St. Mary's.

Having a helicopter based in Ironton "provides a faster response time to the community. Minutes are critical in cardiac, stroke and trauma patients," Lageman said Monday. "Having them on site in Ironton will be absolutely wonderful."

Mullins Construction Co. of Portsmouth started on the $300,000 project last year, said Ralph Kline, assistant executive director of the Ironton-Lawrence County community action organization.

"In life-threatening issues, time is of the essence," Kline said. A hangar to house the helicopter currently is under construction. Employees of the helicopter company will be housed at a converted home behind the medical campus, he said.

"We bought the house earlier," Kline said. "Those people need a place to stay. It's part of our lease."

A minimum of three people will staff the helicopter, Lageman said. "There's the pilot, a flight paramedic and a flight registered nurse," he said.

"We had to cut in the hill and take some rock out," said Dave Milem, who is overseeing the construction project. "Then they put in a retaining wall."