Nothing stops a call for an Air Methods medical transport, not even a ribbon-cutting ceremony or barbecue dinner.
The team stationed at the Horry County-Conway Airport hustled media a safe distance away from the helicopter, donned their helmets, climbed onboard and flew away from the festivities Monday morning after getting a call for service.
The company has been operating on a month-by-month lease since June, but recently decided that Conway’s location within the county is a good, central location for the helicopter to fly out of and to service area hospitals, particularly Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, a certified trauma facility.
Since beginning it operations in Conway, the company has answered 20 to 25 calls per month from hospitals and emergency medical workers who need to get patients to hospital treatment quickly.
G.P. “Chip” Sovick III, vice president of the Med-Atlantic Region of the nationwide company, says that’s about what the company anticipated when officials decided on the Conway location.
Amy Wacha, one of the registered nurses who flies on the helicopter, spent the past four years as a charge trauma nurse in the GSRMC’s emergency room before becoming the newest hire at Air Methods.
Wacha couldn’t be happier with her decision. She likes the way it has expanded her ability to use her critical-thinking skills, has broaden her knowledge base and has given her a new venue to help people.
The newest member of the Air Methods team says she always wanted to try this “pre-hospital” work, “so I said just step out there and do it,” she said.
She also likes the team atmosphere.
“We’re all a team,” she said. “It’s not one versus the other.”
Everyone is working together to give the best possible patient care safely.
“We trust each other’s instincts, really trust,” she said.
Wacha says every time she gets on the helicopter she immediately begins to think about the situation the team is approaching and what needs to be done first.
The team has as its goal moving patients fast, staying no longer than 10 minutes at the scene. Their flight time, of course, depends on how far they have to go, but their radius stops at about 90 minutes of flying time.
Flight paramedic Chad Cox says he worked as an emergency medical technician for 12 years before deciding to “step up my game a little.”
“It’s been awesome,” he said.
Cox lives in Charleston, but plans to move to the area soon to keep up with the company’s 24/7 revolving schedule.
Cox says he’s been undergoing a nice learning experience because the air work comes under different rules than the street work. He thinks having done ground work before benefits him because the helicopter team works closely with the street team in certain emergencies.
He also likes that the helicopter team can do more for patients than could be done at the street level, due to having registered nurses onboard to provide certain types of medications.
“It’s been a nice environment to come into,” he said.
The company has a staff of 13 assigned to Conway now, according to Sovick.
Horry County Councilman Mark Lazarus described the Conway airport as a “diamond in the rough” and said he thinks lots of people either don’t know about the airport on U.S. 378 or don’t know how nice it is.
He said Air Methods has been in the medical transport business at least 20 years and has earned a reputation for caring for patients. They have a great service record and outstanding personnel, Lazarus said as he welcomed them to the community.
Joe Woodle, representing the Conway Chamber of Commerce, said Air Methods is the largest company of its kind in the country and has made more than 110,000 transports.
Conway Mayor Alys Lawson welcomed Air Methods to the area and said the airport is a wonderful facility, just one more tool that Conway and Horry County can use to build a strong economy.
Sovick said it takes a strong partnership for businesses to be successful and he thinks Air Methods has found that here.
He says medical air transport may seem like a complex business, but it isn’t.
“We take care of sick people and we do it safety,” he said.
Sovick said his company started its decision-making trek regarding Conway by talking with Horry County Fire Rescue assistant chief Justin Gibbins and Horry County Councilman Al Allen.
He said they quickly realized what Air Methods could do for the county, especially in the summer when traffic gets really bad.
Allen expects Aynor to work into Air Methods business plans at some point.
He said after a hurricane passes, if the airport loses power, it doesn’t have an emergency generation system.
If that happens, Air Methods’ team can relocate to Aynor where there is a helicopter pad and emergency power and can fly out of there.
Allen said Horry County is also playing a role in the new flight service because Horry County Fire Rescue works in tandem with the flight crews and, at times, Horry County dispatch handles their calls.
The multimillion-dollar operation uses six AS350B2 Astar helicopters that are virtually flying emergency rooms with defibrillators and other important monitors.
The Conway unit also responds to patient calls in Georgetown and Williamsburg counties and transports patients within a 150-mile radius.
Its fleet of 400 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft serve nearly 300 bases in 48 states.