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Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - VCU LifeEvac Celebrates 10 Years

Patient safety, education and relationships with community partners remain among top priorities

The VCU Medical Center’s LifeEvac program has been serving the metro Richmond region for 10 years. Photo by Allen Jones, VCU Creative Services

Malorie Burkett
VCU Communications and Public Relations
(804) 827-0889


Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center’s LifeEvac program, the Richmond area's preeminent air medical transport service for critically ill or injured patients, recently reached 10 years of service.

In 2001, the VCU Medical Center, a Level I trauma center, partnered with Denver-based Air Methods Corp., the largest air medical provider in the world, to create a much-needed critical care service that could provide safe air medical transportation for critical patients throughout Virginia and portions of North Carolina. Responding to accident scenes by air allows hospitals to transfer patients to tertiary care facilities in a safe and timely manner.

In its inaugural flight on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001, VCU Life Evac flew 65 miles to Southside Community Hospital in Farmville to bring a patient with a head injury back to the VCU Medical Center. The trip — which would have taken about two hours by ground ambulance — took less than one hour in the Life Evac helicopter

“I think LifeEvac is viewed very favorably by both our partners in referring hospitals and by EMS and rescue agencies,” said Harinder Dhindsa, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and medical director of LifeEvac. “The fact that we can bring evidence-based treatment guidelines developed by the various clinical service lines at VCU and implement them in another hospital's ICU — or at a car crash on the side of the road in the middle of the night — means that our patients benefit from all that the VCU Health System has to offer, even before they arrive at our hospital.”

Over the past decade, demand for air patient transports increased and LifeEvac Virginia formed partnerships with two additional health systems in order to meet the demands of the changing health care system in Virginia. In 2005, VCU LifeEvac relocated to Dinwiddie County Airport in Petersburg to better serve its customers, save time on responses and expand coverage to rural localities and community hospitals.

Also that year, VCU LifeEvac upgraded its technology with a new state-of-the-art helicopter that became the first medical helicopter in the region equipped with night-vision-goggle capabilities. It also was the only air transport service in the area that could handle a heart-saving balloon pump and a biventricular pump at the same time.

VCU LifeEvac has since completed numerous missions in Virginia and beyond, averaging approximately 600 flights per year. VCU LifeEvac bases operate 24/7 and each helicopter includes a critical care nurse, a critical care paramedic and pilot. The program maintains a strong presence in the community by participating in community events.

“Once we got past our initial startup phase, the program made a conscious effort to focus on education and outreach,” said Dhindsa. “Over the past decade, LifeEvac personnel, in conjunction with VCU faculty and staff, have offered thousands of free continuing education credits to our referring EMS agencies and hospitals.

“I am especially proud of the fact that we have been able to serve a large number of rural EMS agencies that do not have the resources or infrastructure for continuing education,” Dhindsa said.

The LifeEvac program teaches EMS providers the Brain Trauma Foundation's evidence-based guidelines for traumatic brain injury in an effort to help improve outcomes in this population. In addition, LifeEvac helps elevate the safety of medevac operations throughout central Virginia by providing landing zone safety classes to hundreds of EMS providers.

VCU LifeEvac team members speak at regional, state, national and international conferences on patient care transport and emergency medical care. In conjunction with Air Methods, the program focuses on high-fidelity patient simulation to train for high-risk situations.

“The strength of this team lies in our paramedics, nurses and pilots,” said Dhindsa. “They represent the VCU Health System when we go out on a scene call or to another hospital. We consistently receive extremely positive feedback about their customer service as well as their clinical care. Their level of dedication to their job and the patients we serve is inspiring.”

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