Currently, when a 911 dispatcher receives a call of a crash with serious injuries that may need a helicopter, he or she will call Careflight dispatch at North Mississippi Medical Center.
The Careflight team readies the helicopter and checks the weather to make sure they can respond. Once ready, the 911 dispatcher places the Careflight team on standby until an ambulance crew can arrive on the scene and confirm a helicopter rescue is necessary.
Under the new auto-launch response, the helicopter will not wait for the ambulance to get on scene, and instead will take off once the helicopter is ready and pilot has accepted the flight.
“If that call comes in, for example, in Prentiss County, and they get a call of a (motor vehicle crash) with an ejection and a head injury and say, ‘This sounds like I might need a helicopter to go to a Level II (trauma center),’ they’ll pick up the phone and call us,” said Josh Wenzel, administrative director of patient placement and transportation at North Mississippi Medical Center.
“If the pilot accepts the flight, they will respond. There is no more waiting for the ambulance to get to the scene and call with verification that we’re going to respond.”
The auto-launch program will only apply to incidents outside of Lee County. Wenzel said an ambulance can dispatch and return much quicker inside Lee County than the helicopter.
If the helicopter is told to turn back mid-flight or doesn’t transport a patient, no one is billed for the expense.
“This is just a new thing we’re going to do to provide a better service to the community,” Wenzel said.
He said if there is something going on in Tippah County and an ambulance responds, it may take them 15 to 20 minutes to arrive on the scene and decide Careflight is needed. “Then it takes another 10 or 12 minutes for us to get there in the helicopter,” he said. “If we go ahead and launch, we may be over the scene in the air as the ambulance gets there or even before.”
The new auto-launch program begins Monday morning.