Palm Beach County Trauma Hawk celebrates 20 years

Palm Beach County Trauma Hawk celebrates 20 years

3-Feb-2011 Source: Sikorsky

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Feb. 2, 2011  — Twenty years ago, the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, a public safety-net healthcare organization, established the county’s life-saving Trauma System. The Trauma System took flight in 1991 after the Health Care District’s Board approved the purchase of a Trauma Hawk helicopter to airlift critically-injured patients to two local Trauma Centers. The first trauma patients received care in May of 1991. Since then the Trauma System, which is overseen and funded by the Health Care District, has treated 50,000 traumatically-injured patients.

“Thanks to the skill and dedication of the professionals who support the Trauma System in Palm Beach County, tens of thousands of trauma victims have survived,” said Jonathan R. Satter, Chair of the Health Care District’s Board of Commissioners. “This milestone is the result of a successful private and governmental partnership.”

Based on a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ report, Palm Beach County’s Trauma System meets the guidelines of a national model because it encompasses all of the recommended components for an inclusive Trauma System. The Trauma System in Palm Beach County is also a pioneer in that its Implementation Plan was the first of its kind approved by the State of Florida.

This coordinated emergency-response system includes: employees with the District’s Aeromedical Program, which features two Trauma Hawk air ambulances; the county’s enhanced 911 communications and dispatch system; the county’s EMS providers, who support the Trauma System’s pre-hospital component;  the trauma physicians, nurses and staff at the county’s two privately-operated Trauma Centers and their rehabilitation facilities; and staff with the District’s Trauma Agency, who oversee a system-wide quality management program.

“Each year, our Trauma System delivers safe, rapid transport and specialized medical treatment to nearly 3,000 traumatically-injured patients,” said Dwight D. Chenette, MBA, MPH, Chief Executive Officer of the Health Care District.

Through its Aeromedical Program, the District owns and operates two Sikorsky S76-C+ Trauma Hawk air ambulances, which are dispatched when travel time for ground transportation exceeds 20 minutes. The highly-skilled and experienced flight crew includes commercial instrument-rated pilots, a Florida-licensed registered nurse who is also a state-certified paramedic, and an additional state-certified paramedic. The medical team members are Palm Beach County Fire Rescue personnel.

“In a county that measures more than 2,300 square miles – the largest by area in Florida – it is critical that air transport be readily available,” said Debi Gavras, RN, the Health Care District’s Core Operating Officer. “For a trauma patient, every passing minute without care can mean the difference between life and death.”

Gerald M. Pagano, the District’s Director of Medical Transport and Aeromedical Facilities was the first Trauma Hawk pilot to fly a patient to the Trauma Centers for treatment in 1991. He’s proud of the Aeromedical Program’s exemplary safety record.

“Our mission is to provide excellent patient care and safe, efficient air transportation,” said Mr. Pagano. “Our strong safety culture has allowed us to maintain a zero accident rate.”

Depending on their geographic location, trauma patients are transported to the Trauma Centers at either St. Mary’s Medical Center or Delray Medical Center. The Trauma Centers staff a 24-hour, on-site trauma surgery team. The trauma surgeon is immediately available and, depending on the type and extent of the patient’s injuries, other highly specialized physicians may also provide treatment.

The District’s Trauma Agency, as overseen by Medical Director Dr. Sandra Schwemmer, ensures the operational components of the Trauma System function as a cohesive unit. The Agency also administers a system-wide quality management program that assures quality care from the point of a patient’s injury through rehabilitation and recovery.

“We monitor and help coordinate the complex facets of trauma care,” said Sandra Smith, RN, MSN, the District’s Trauma Agency Administrator. “It’s been rewarding to witness the incredible progress these patients are able to achieve.”

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About the Health Care District:

The Health Care District of Palm Beach County provides health coverage programs for uninsured residents, a model Trauma System, nurses staffing nearly 170 public schools, a pharmacy, a long-term skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, and acute care at the county’s public hospital, Lakeside Medical Center.

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