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NRMC staff visits with UMC chopper crew

NATCHEZ — An unusual helicopter welcoming party greeted the medical transport helicopter landing at Natchez Regional Medical Center on Wednesday.

Button-downs and loafers replaced scrubs and stethoscopes as members of the hospital’s staff and board of trustees received a first-hand look at one of Mississippi’s newest medical device — a state-of-the-art, twin-turbine medical helicopter.

The Eurocopter EC-145 helicopter and its crew, part the University of Mississippi’s AirCare program, visited NRMC to help familiarize the hospital staff with the program and all it offers. The helicopter was obtained in December 2010.

“We’re exploring ways we can better assist Southwest Mississippi,” said Dr. Damon A. Darsey, associate medical director of AirCare. “We talked about how resources are limited in many cities, but also what we could offer, how we can help you guys better.”

Darsey said with the addition of the new helipad at NRMC, constructed in 2007, the ability to quickly airlift critical care patients has been greatly improved.

“It’s been unbelievably helpful in getting patients transported to Jackson or even Baton Rouge,” he said.

The helipad behind NRMC also handles patient transfers from Natchez Community Hospital, too.

In 2010, the AirCare received 442 calls for transports from Natchez, a figure that includes both Natchez hospitals.

Of those, 97 percent were successful, with the remaining flight requests canceled due to severe weather, said Christina Hall, NRMC’s chief nursing officer and vice president of nursing.

That figure includes all sorts of patients, such as trauma victims, severely premature infants and heart patients.

The flight time from Natchez to the University of Mississippi Medical Center is approximately 35 minutes, Darsey said.

“It’s awesome for us because neither of our hospitals are trauma centers,” Hall said. “It’s just not practical to put everybody in an ambulance.”

AirCare currently operates two critical care transportation helicopters, one based in Jackson and one based in Meridian.

Darsey said improved communications through the years have allowed for rapid response when necessary.

NRMC’s Neely Ward, trauma program manager and nurse manager of the emergency room, said the availability of the helicopter transport is critical.

“Trauma cases, we probably get 20 to 25 per month and probably half of those are flown out,” she said. “As soon as I get that ambulance call and determine it’s too severe for us to handle, I pick up the phone and we have a direct line to them.

“They’re basically en route by the time the patient is rolling in the door. They’re absolutely wonderful to work with.”

AirCare is the only flight program in the state to offer certain life-saving techniques necessary for some critical care patients and the only program to carry units of blood on each flight.

“The big deal for both emergency rooms here is that when that group from AirCare gets here, it’s just like an ICU unit walks into your hospital,” Hall said. “They do more than just fly that person. They sustain that person’s life until they get to their destination.”

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