A new HCA Houston Healthcare AIRLife helicopter base in Liberty opened this week and the air ambulance and its crew have already helped save a child in the midst of a medical crisis.
“We took a child to our HCA hospital in Conroe this week. Nine minutes after the air ambulance arrived, the child was in an operating room. Several hours after when the patient was out of surgery, the child was flown to a pediatric trauma center. That’s exactly how it should work,” said Marty Delaney, division vice president of medical transport for HCA Houston Healthcare.
The new helicopter base is located at 1353 N. Travis St., Liberty, directly across from Liberty-Regional Medical Center. The Liberty hospital and HCA Houston Healthcare partnered on the project to bring the AIRLife helicopter to Liberty County. It is the third helicopter base for AIRLife in the greater Houston area.
“Historically air ambulance helicopters are based out of trauma centers but the reality is that most patients that use air ambulances originate in the surrounding communities,” Delaney said.
In recent years, HCA Houston Healthcare has made a concerted effort to establish trauma centers outside the Houston beltway to better serve people in rural communities. Today, the organization has Level 2 trauma centers in Conroe, Kingwood and Clear Lake, and along I-45 and FM 1960.
“If you get into an accident in Liberty, we can fly you from right here, reducing the amount of time it takes to get patients to a trauma center. Minutes count in almost every medical emergency. I’m from St. Louis and am not used to the traffic you all have in the Houston area. I have yet to find the right time to drive through Houston without hitting a lot of traffic,” Delaney said. “The air ambulance is able to cut through that. The helicopters are twice as fast as a car and travel in a straight line.”
The flight time from the Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center to the closest comprehensive neuro and trauma care facility in Kingwood is approximately 12 minutes. In other scenarios, where an air ambulance is requested, the flight time to Liberty County can be a half-hour with more time added for on-the-ground patient stabilization and then a flight to a trauma center.
The air ambulance will also be used to transport patients from the Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center to trauma centers when the need arises. AIRLife air ambulances will also fly to and from landing zones at fire stations and those set up near car crashes and other major emergencies where time is of the essence.
Rhonda Campbell, CEO of Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center, is excited to have worked with HCA Houston Healthcare to bring the air ambulance service to Liberty.
“We think it’s a great partnership. It’s a service to the community, not just the hospital,” Campbell said. “It’s a great asset for the community because we are able to access acute and/or medical or trauma care in a more timely manner.”
Patients who are flown on the AIRLife helicopters will still have options as to which trauma center they would like to use.
“Families can still decide where they want their patient flown. From the scene of an emergency, such as a car crash, we would normally transport a patient to the closest trauma center,” Delaney said.
HCA’s investment into the Liberty community comes is huge. The helicopter alone is valued at $8 million. Plus the site of the helipad on N. Travis St. now includes a headquarters for flight crew where they can rest and work while they await emergency calls.
“We have invested a significant amount into the community. In addition to the helicopter and the base, we have employed 14 people who will be working from that base. They will work 24-hour shifts,” Delaney said.
Among the flight crews is a longtime Liberty County resident – Jared Oliver, who previously worked for other ambulance services in the county. He also is a licensed peace officer and has worked as a firefighter. He is married to Rachel Oliver, an emergency room RN for HCA Houston Healthcare and the granddaughter of former Liberty County Judge Lloyd “Tookie” Kirkham. Together, the Olivers and their two children live in Tarkington.
For Oliver, working as a flight medic is a dream come true, particularly as he is serving his own community.
“I am beyond excited to be working as a flight medic. I have always wanted to fly and have a great passion for taking care of the residents in this county. It’s the best job in the world for me,” Oliver said.
He hopes to prove to the residents of Liberty County that AIRLife is ready to take care of them in their hour of greatest need.
“We are here to get our patients to definitive care as quickly and safely as possible while also providing critical care in the air,” Oliver said.