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HealthNet adds wider helicopters to fleet

Mar. 18, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- When time is of the essence for a HealthNet Flight team transporting a patient to Cabell Huntington Hospital, having a little extra space makes all the difference.

HealthNet Aeromedical Services announced on Monday the purchase of four new helicopters in the latest model, the Eurocopter EC-130. Aside from being a state-of-the-art aircraft and having a lower noise signature, the biggest improvement with the $2.7 million helicopter is an extra 18 inches in width.

What that means, said Jeremy Higginbotham, flight team leader for the HealthNet service based in Hamlin, is that life-saving procedures can be done aboard the flight rather than before loading the patient on the aircraft. And that saves precious minutes, he said.

Cabell Huntington Hospital President and CEO Brent Marsteller said the price tag on the helicopters demonstrates the commitment of HealthNet and its partner hospitals, which include Cabell Huntington, Charleston Area Medical Center and West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown.

"What you're seeing is safe, great care as far as aviation technology," Marsteller said. "We are sticking to our mission of doing it right."

With the new aircraft, HealthNet is far exceeding minimum standards of the Federal Aviation Administration, which to the entities involved are unacceptable, said Clinton Burley, HealthNet's president and CEO.

"We've taken the minimum standards and grown to put the best and safest aircraft out there (along with the best medical equipment to do the jobs)," he said.

Two of the four new helicopters are already in operation, one at the Hamlin base and another in Martin County, Ky. Burley said that a third Eurocopter EC-130 will be on the job in Scioto County, Ohio, later this week. A fleet spare will be on-hand as well.

HealthNet bases are strategically placed to provide the most immediate care to all areas of the region. Along with the bases already mentioned, there are bases in Ripley, Beckley, Buckhannon, Morgantown and Martinsburg.

HealthNet was founded 26 years ago as a not-for-profit critical care transport program and since then has completed nearly 70,000 safe transports, Burley said. It usually completes about 3,500 flights per year, Burley said.

About 50 percent of its trips are for trauma patients, such as those who have been in an accident. The rest are for patients who need critical care immediately -- premature infants, pregnant mothers with an emergency, babies and children with critical health needs, as well as stroke and heart attack patients, said David Cross, director of Business Development for HealthNet.

A flight team usually consists of a pilot, flight paramedic and flight nurse. But in some cases, specialists are needed, and the larger aircraft permits room for specialty transport team members to be called aboard.

That's a big help, Higginbotham said. While all on board are trained in medical response, it's beneficial to have a specialist there, he said.

"We definitely do a lot with specialty teams, and we're happy to do that because they bring that higher level of care," he said.

The Eurocopter EC-130 features a larger patient loading area and an obstruction-free flat floor for easier patient loading. Other new features include: a dual hydraulic system, a low noise Fenestron tail rotor, no-snag landing skids, a higher rotor system clearance and a glass cockpit. It also has a terrain avoidance warning system, an air traffic collision avoidance system and cabin mounted wire cutters.

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