The earliest recorded use of air transport to get trauma victims to medical treatment occurred in 1870, by means of hot air balloons. Wounded soldiers were airlifted from the front to medical care during the siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War.
Today, medevac helicopters have twin jet engines, terrain awareness systems, on-board weather radar, night vision technology and a plethora of life saving, high-tech medical equipment.
Yet, one facet of the challenge remains the same: weather conditions, especially in winter, can be hazardous.
For the Birds
WellSpan York Hospital, located in south central Pennsylvania, is one of the only Level 1 regional resource trauma centers in the surrounding counties.
The hospital built a new, cutting-edge helipad as part of an ongoing $50 million modernization of its emergency department, improving the hospital’s ability to administer advanced, life-saving specialty care to the region’s sickest and most seriously injured patients.
The new helipad adds yet another measure of sophisticated technology to combat one of the last remaining obstacles to safe air transport of patients for medical care: winter weather. Ice and snow accumulations on flat helicopter pads can pose great risk to airborne patients, and those flying the craft as well.
“There’s an art to maintaining just the right degree of heat within a concrete helicopter pad to ensure that it’s free of ice and snow — which can temporarily blind pilots at a time when they’re most vulnerable,” said Dave Yates, president of York, PA-based F. W. Behler, Inc.
The hospital’s elevated helicopter pad is 34 feet off the ground and measures 7,200 sq. ft. — more than 3,000 sq. ft. larger than the hospital’s old helipad. The early pad required larger “birds” to land at an alternate location, over a half-mile away, where ambulances would meet them to complete the patient’s transport to the hospital.
“In trauma care, every second counts, and this helipad will enable us to provide care even sooner to our most seriously injured patients,” said Keith Noll, president of WellSpan York Hospital and senior vice president of WellSpan Health.
Three primary aeromedical systems provide helicopter transport to York Hospital.
The hospital received 190 trauma patients by helicopter last year.
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