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Helicopter service comes to Phoebe

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- What was once a two-hour ambulance ride from here to Macon can now be converted into a 45-minute helicopter flight in the event of a medical emergency -- when time is the greatest enemy.

Air Evac Lifeteam now has a landing area at Phoebe HealthWorks on Third Avenue, allowing Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to take advantage of its services.

"When bringing in patients, they can use the field instead of the airport," said Todd Braswell, Phoebe's emergency center director. "The closer you can get to the hospital, the better.

"It's a good area because it is very secure."

Officials introduced the service at an event Tuesday morning.

In order to start using the service, which is based in Cordele, officials were expected to put in an application to the Federal Aviation Administration so they could take the proper steps to ensure the appropriate safety measures were in place.

"This took many, many months," Braswell said. "It's definitely a benefit to the community and the region when we have access to this. Choppers can fly to the scene (of a car accident) and have a shorter transport time. Having access to this is a good thing."

Circumstances such as inclement weather may hinder the hospital's ability to take advantage of the helicopter. Emergency medical service personnel initially on the scene typically make the determination as to whether the service is needed, Braswell said.

"It is really a phone call away," he said.

Air Evac has been in existence for 25 years, and its Cordele base has been in operation for roughly one year. It provides services to seven hospitals in Georgia.

Officials say the service is one that can be particularly beneficial to rural areas.

"This is actually a flying (intensive care unit)," said Greg Dampier, Air Evac program director. "It will serve a great benefit for the area."

The crew of a helicopter generally consists of the pilot, a critical care nurse and a medic. The number of calls they may take in a day varies.

"It can range from one to four to none," Dampier said. "The most we've flown in a day is six."

After a crew has taken four flights in a day, their status is evaluated to ensure they are not too worn out to keep going.

"If they have not slept or eaten, they don't take the next call," Dampier said. "Safety is a big aspect."