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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Emergency responders learn about LifeNet of New York air transport service

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MASSENA - Area emergency responders got a hands-on look Wednesday night at a helicopter they might have to call in if a patient required quick transport to a medical facility.

LifeNet of New York air medical transport is based locally out of Damon Field in Potsdam, giving it quick access to emergency scenes.

“Our helicopter staff is on 24 hours, seven days a week with a full crew,” said Jeff Doyle, medical base supervisor at Potsdam.

Each aircraft is staffed with a critical care nurse, critical care paramedic and pilot, and one patient is transported in each aircraft to allow the greatest amount of focused care.

“All of our members are critical care credentialed. They have direct oversight by our own physician. We have patient care guidelines. We don’t follow ground protocols. It’s ‘this is what is wrong with the patient. This is what we expect you to do to get the patient where you need to go,’” he said. “Each time we go on a mission we bring everything with us, all of our tools in the tool box.”

In case of an emergency, Mr. Doyle said their range of operation is about 150 miles, excluding Canada. They work to have each of their aircraft launched within 10 minutes of the mission being accepted by the pilot on duty at the closest available base.

“We pick up from the scene or if the hospital feels the patient has to move to specialty care,” he said.

Rather than a three-hour drive to a facility in locations like Burlington, Vt., or Syracuse, a LifeNet helicopter can transport a patient in about 45 minutes, improving the person’s chances medically, Mr. Doyle said. They can travel a mile in two minutes. A trip from Potsdam to Massena would take eight minutes.

“We don’t have to stop at traffic lights. We do not have to follow traffic patterns,” Mr. Doyle said.

LifeNet of New York is owned and operated by Air Methods Corporation, Englewood, Colo. Since their beginnings in 1992, they now cover 47 states with 50 helicopters, 10 of them in New York at based in Potsdam, Albany, Glen, Newburgh, Harris, Hornell, Sidney, Dexter and Sayre, Pa. They opened their Potsdam location on Oct. 1. The station at Watertown International Airport near Dexter opened in June.

Although they’re staffed around the clock, Mr. Doyle said there may be times when they’re not able to respond because of another emergency. But that doesn’t mean air transport is out of the question, he said.

“We have agreements with neighboring agencies. If we can’t do it, they dial those agencies,” he said. “We’re not here to take over anybody. We’re not here to step on toes. We’re strictly dedicated to the care of that patient.”

Weather can also play a factor, not just locally, but at their final destination.

“We have to make sure we can make all the legs of the trip before we accept the mission,” Mr. Doyle said.

The service comes with a cost, though, depending on the distance. A recent letter to the editor from Henry R. LaClair, Clayton, that appeared in the Watertown Daily Times said the bill for a flight from Thousand Islands Middle School to Syracuse was thousands of dollars.

“The bill for the flight alone was a staggering $42,500 plus hospital and dental bills,” Mr. LaClair wrote.

Mr. Doyle said he doesn’t see the bills, but was aware of the concern.

“I saw the article. The bill was $39,000 and his insurance covered all of it,” he said. “We do work with the insurance company. Most insurance companies do pay.”

If a person doesn’t have insurance, the company will work with the individual, he said.

“We won’t take their home,” Mr. Doyle said. “We’re Medicare compliant. We’re restricted by that. It’s not excessive. The aircraft as it sits on the ground is $5 million and we provide an expedited transport and elevated level of care”

Wednesday’s session, which included a landing by a LifeNet helicopter in the Massena Rescue Squad’s parking lot, was a chance for area emergency responders, including rescue squad and fire department members to get their first exposure to LifeNet.

“For a lot of these folks it’s their first interaction with us. We’ll give them an overview of who we are as an agency and how to go about requesting us,” Mr. Doyle said.

Norm Worden, chairman of the board and critical care technician with the Massena Rescue Squad said there were advantages to using LifeNet’s services in case of extreme emergencies in which the patient needed immediate care.

“They can get to the appropriate facility in a decent amount of time,” he said.

The call for LifeNet’s services can be made by the medical person in charge of the scene or a fire chief if they’re the site commander, Mr. Worden said.

“The last time we had a situation, they couldn’t fly because of the weather. When they can fly it’s a great asset. It’s a good service if we ever need it. They’re there if we need it,” he said.

If the helicopter is unavailable in Potsdam, Mr. Worden said they could also request one be dispatched from Watertown.

“We go a lot of times on the dispatch information. If it’s a serious personal injury accident the first thing I’m going to say is give me the availability of a helicopter,” Mr. Worden said. “If Potsdam is available, they’re going to be on the ground before we cut the patient out of the vehicle.”

Approximately 60 people were invited for Wednesday’s session, and the chairs were full in the rescue squad’s bay area where Mr. Doyle gave a slide presentation on their services before taking them out to the helicopter.

“I set up for about 60-plus,” Mr. Worden said. “The first people I invited was Massena Fire because we work with them every day.”

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