WATERTOWN - Samaritan Medical Center showed off its new emergency helicopter capabilities that proponents say will improve response times and patient care.
At a public demonstration Thursday afternoon, on the eve of launching in the north country, hospital employees crowded to roof areas of the hospital as the white and blue American Eurocopter EC135 helicopter navigated steady winds, coasting to the painted helipad on top of the hospitals parking garage. Starting today, the helicopter will become a regular fixture of the area.
The hospital has not had a local helicopter partner since 2007, when Fort Drums Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic program was reassigned to Fort Lewis, Wash. In the time since that departure, the area has instead been served by units from outside the county.
Were thrilled to have this back, said Denise K. Young, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. Its what we really need for this area.
Air Methods Corp., based in Englewood, Colo, will operate the helicopters locally as LifeNet of New York. The company has said it will a use a fee-for-service model that will require no additional funding from Jefferson County or the hospital.
Marty J. Delaney, the companys regional business director, said that he saw the company having a long future in the area.
We are permanent, he said. We are here to stay.
Based out of Watertown International Airport, the local unit, consisting of four paramedics, four nurses, four pilots and two mechanics, will be on call 24 hours a day.
Mrs. Young said that between 400 and 500 situations fit the criteria for an air response, but instead were handled by ground-based emergency units. She said that difference added unnecessary complexity and time delays.
Time is the brain, time is the heart in emergency situations, Mrs. Young said.
The Watertown units helicopter can carry a pilot and as many as seven passengers, and reach speeds of 137 knots per hour, according to the helicopters manufacturer. Mr. Delany estimated a trip between the hospital and Syracuse would take about 28 minutes.
Bernie F. Reynolds, regional aviation director for Air Methods, said the helicopters covered tail rotor made it safer for crews and quieter, and that the helicopter would produce about half the noise of the Black Hawk helicopters which are a mainstay of the area.
The launch of the service was a homecoming of sorts for William A. Stubba, who will supervise the Watertown unit and a Potsdam unit that is scheduled to become operational in July. Mr. Stubba was a part of a crew that operated in the area during the 1990s.
To me this is my home, Mr. Stubba said. This is my backyard.
The new service will launch at 7 a.m. today.