Grounded: Commonwealth Health Ending Air Transport

March 5, 2019
Grounded: Commonwealth Health Ending Air Transport

Commonwealth Health Emergency Medical Services is ending air transport services to focus solely on ground transportation, a spokeswoman for the health system said.

Commonwealth One, a critical care helicopter, has served an 11-county area of Northeast Pennsylvania since 2014. The helicopter was stationed at Seamans Airport in Factoryville.

Ann Marie Poslock, vice president of marketing and communications for Commonwealth Health, said CHEMS ground transportation services have grown to more than 50,000 transports per year while use of the emergency medical helicopter service contracted through Air Methods has remained low.

“Several other entities offer air transport services for our communities in Northeast Pennsylvania and we are confident that these providers are able to meet the community’s current and future needs,” Poslock said in a statement.

Poslock would not immediately say what would happen to the helicopter or how many jobs would be impacted.

She said critical care transportation will remain available through CHEMS ground transportation.

A helipad is located on the sixth floor on top of the intensive care unit and emergency department at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.

Commonwealth Health officials formerly proposed to put a helipad on top of Regional Hospital of Scranton’s ancillary building.

As Commonwealth Health is ending its air transport services, Geisinger has nine helicopters, six bases and one critical care ground truck, said Geisinger spokeswoman Alysha Davis.

Geisinger’s Life Flight has served more than 2,700 patients last year and has more than 128 staff members and about 80 clinicians. The program is 38 years old and serves more than 45 counties in northeast and central Pennsylvania.

It provides critically ill or injured patients with rapid access to advanced life support care and transportation to critical care facilities, trauma centers and burn centers.

Gerald Splitt, Geisinger’s Life Flight program director, said Geisinger’s goal is to provide “outstanding” critical care transportation throughout their 42 county service area on the ground and in the air.

“We continually build and improve education programs that begin with EMTs and paramedics in the field,” Splitt said. “We partner with these EMS professionals to provide state-of-the-art care for the most serious medical issues, including stroke, heart attacks, pediatrics, and traumatic injuries. We’re very proud of our region’s EMS professionals and will continue working together to improve emergency medical services long into the future.”

Geisinger’s Life Flight’s crew consists of a pilot, a flight-registered nurses, a certified flight paramedic and in certain circumstances, a flight physician or specialty nurse.

Kunkle Fire Department Chief Jack Dodson said if they need to use helicopter services to transport patients from the Back Mountain, they use Geisinger’s most of the time.

Dodson added they might only use helicopter services three to five times in a year and paramedics typically transport patients to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in one of their three ambulances. Air transport services to a trauma center would be used in a situation like vehicle entrapment, he said.

Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney said since both Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Twp. are certified trauma centers, they transfer patients to whichever hospital is closest in an ambulance.

Before there were two trauma centers in the Wyoming Valley, Delaney said patients were airlifted to Scranton years ago.

“We’re very fortunate in the City of Wilkes-Barre to have two trauma centers very close so for us, we generally don’t have a delay,” Delaney said. “We haven’t flown a patient in Wilkes-Barre City in years since there are two trauma centers here.”

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