Hopkinsville Air Evac Lifeteam celebrated 20 years serving the community Wednesday, but the medics' lifesaving work didn't stop for the occasion.
Right before the event, managers said the Hopkinsville medical base received a call to service and off went the helicopter and its emergency team.
Air Evac Lifeteam is the largest, independently owned membership-supported air ambulance service in the U.S., according to its website. It was founded by a group of private citizens in West Plains, Mo., in 1985, and the Hopkinsville base, which operates out of Jennie Stuart Medical Center, opened in September 1999.
"It started in rural areas, and Hopkinsville is an ideal spot," said David Webb, senior program director for Hopkinsville.
Based on East 18th Street, Air Evac services not only Hopkinsville but also Trigg, Todd and Muhlenberg counties.
"This is a 24-hour base," Webb said, but there is a 12-hour base in Bowling Green that serves as backup, he noted.
Bob Rowland, program director for the Bowling Green and Clarksville bases, was onsite Wednesday for the anniversary and for backup when the Hopkinsville base received the call.
Each base, he said, has 15 to 17 full-time employees, including nurses, medics and managers.
"We work so we can back each other up, so the community doesn't have to go without," Rowland said. "They're relying on the whole team."
Air Evac services anyone in an emergency that requires a helicopter to get to better care; however, membership manager John Davis said patients with an Air Evac membership will not receive a bill for the flight, which could cost thousands of dollars.
"It's a wonderful backup to insurance," said Davis, who will be retiring soon after 13 years selling the memberships. "Insurance typically doesn't cover the complete cost of the flight, but the membership covers the out-of-pocket costs."
Memberships are $85 per year, according to the Air Evac website.
Rowland said 24% of households in Christian County, or nearly 15,000 people, 34% in Trigg County and 28% in Todd County have Air Evac memberships.
On average, the Hopkinsville base will get about a call a day to head to a scene or transport a patient from one hospital to the next, Webb said.
"They're on-call, ready to go 24/7," he said.
Over the past 20 years, Rowland said the company has expanded its reach and continued to advance with technology.
"Hopkinsville was the 10th base in the company, and Clarksville is 151, so in 20 years, we've grown that much," Rowland said, noting that the bases are scattered over 15 states. "The biggest advantage of the helicopter is the speed. We don't have to deal with the traffic, and when that life is on the line, we can save that time."
Along with carrying blood on all the aircrafts, each has night-vision goggles and auto pilot as a safety feature.
"We're constantly trying to improve to advance patient care," Rowland said. "And, safety is always are No. 1 consideration."
In the thick of an emergency, training is what the nurses and paramedics rely on. Donna Young, who has been a flight nurse with Hopkinsville Air Evac Lifeteam for 16 years, said that was the hardest part when she left working in an emergency room to join the flight team.
"It was a difficult challenge at first because I didn't understand that impact," she said. "In the ER, I always had that physician there to give me the orders and bounce my ideas off of, but in the EMS pre-hospital world, it's solely the assessment of my partner and I that render the treatment, so that was a big adjustment."
To be prepared for that pressure, Rowland said all medical crews must have three years of experience working in an emergency room before they are eligible to apply for the job.
"Beyond that, we require them to get advance credentials," he said. "They're all certified as an advanced emergency nurse or a flight paramedic."
Young said the training is nonstop, but it's rewarding in the end. She specifically remembers one flight when they had to transport a young patient in critical condition.
"You never really know how those turn out," she said, "but I was sitting here at base one day 12 years later, and that patient pulled up with his family and introduced himself to me — needless to say, that was amazing. ... Seeing people at their worst is not always easy to do, but when you see the benefit of those results, it makes you want to keep coming back to do the job."
Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.