By Tracey Boyd
North Shore-LIJ Health System, Manhasset, N.Y., and Connecticut’s Yale-New Haven Health System have collaborated to bring a hospital-based medical helicopter program to patients in the New York downstate region.
The helicopter emergency medical service, called SkyHealth, will provide life-saving care to critical patients in need at both institutions.
“This helicopter could mean the difference between life and death for critically ill and trauma patients,” Michael Dowling, North-Shore LIJ’s president and CEO, said of the program’s recent launch.
These patients include those who have suffered heart attack, stroke and other life-threatening brain injuries, as well as victims of major trauma such as motor vehicle accidents and natural disasters.
With an average flight speed of 130 mph, use of the helicopter cuts down on travel time significantly, Dowling said. For example, a 40-minute road trip may take 10 to 15 minutes.
“The helicopter enables us to avoid congested highways and provide the fastest hospital-to-hospital transfers for vulnerable patients,” he said.
In addition to a $7 million investment toward the SkyHealth helicopter, North Shore-LIJ has also invested another $6.5 million to build a helipad atop North Shore University Hospital, which recently was designated as a Level I trauma center by the American College of Surgeons. The helipad will serve as a trauma center destination for Nassau County’s medevac helicopters and also be available to the Suffolk County and New York City police departments.
The program is managed by the North Shore-LIJ Center for EMS and expects to serve between 350 and 400 patients in its first year, according to the health system.
The medical flight team includes a a highly trained RN and a paramedic, according to the health systems, both of whom are credentialed in New York and Connecticut. The “sky ambulance” has everything onboard necessary to transport critically ill patients, from mechanical ventilators to cardiac monitors, even infant incubators.
“The helicopter is outfitted with the same life-saving equipment as an ICU,” said Taryn Capasso, BSN, RN, NREMT, chief flight nurse, SkyHealth Air Medical flight team.
Although Capasso has been a flight nurse with the Air Force for the past 14 years, she said this experience was altogether different.
“This was an amazing opportunity,” she said. “We’re so excited. We have been training and preparing for this, and we are ready. All the nurses and all the paramedics came together and it’s all for the patients’ benefits.”
Naara Zapata, RN, is a flight nurse with the program. She had no previous flight experience but always dreamed of being a flight nurse.
“When it became a reality, I wanted to just jump in,” said Zapata, who previously worked as a surgical ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. “I was on my knees praying to God that I would be chosen.”
Once selected, Zapata said the first step was to become a certified EMT. She participated in an accelerated program to achieve certification, then began simulation exercises with paramedics, using a makeshift helicopter to simulate tight quarters and to handle every catastrophe the team could imagine with patients.
“It’s been intense from the beginning,” she said.
The final step was the actual flight training. For Zapata, that was the easy part.
“My first flight was exhilarating,” she said. “It was smoother than any flights and ambulance rides I’ve ever been on, so I said, ‘This is a piece of cake.’”
Tracey Boyd is a regional reporter for Nurse.com.
North Shore-LIJ, Yale-New Haven unveil flying ambulance
By Tracey Boyd