On Feb. 22, UF&Shands Jacksonville unveiled its fleet of three new TraumaOne helicopters, replacing two older helicopters and adding a third. In addition, it announced significant improvements to the program's flight services.
The helicopters will be used to transport regional victims of traumatic injuries, heart attacks and strokes to the nearest qualified facility or the one most preferred by the patient, if that is expressed. All three helicopters will be permanently stationed at outlying locations within the hospital's coverage area.
One TraumaOne helicopter will remain in Lake City in Columbia County, as it has for 13 years, while a second helicopter will be located in Yulee in Nassau County. The third will be based at Flagler Hospital in St. Johns County thanks to a partnership between the two health care organizations.
The new and expanded fleet was made possible through an agreement with Med-Trans, a national air medical provider for health care systems.
"What a great day for Shands Jacksonville and the region it serves," said Fred Buttrell, president and CEO of Med-Trans who referred to TraumaOne as a "flying triangle" that would now be able to respond to emergencies even faster in communities farther away from the main hospital.
TraumaOne refers to the critical time following an injury, heart attack or stroke as the golden hour, when every passing second can mean the difference in survival, or how effective treatment will be in minimizing lasting damage.
Traditional ambulances have proven to work very well in most Jacksonville areas because they can get people to the hospital within a short time, but the helicopters are most needed outside of the city, where driving may take too long.
Basing the helicopters in these far-reaching areas reduces the extra time it often takes to dispatch a helicopter from the main hospital to the scene. While TraumaOne has a strong record of response times, staff is always looking for ways to improve the program's efficiency even more, said J. Bracken Burns Jr., D.O., M.S., a University of Florida assistant professor of surgery and medical director for TraumaOne Flight Services.
"We continue to build on a solid foundation but will never rest on our previous accomplishments," said Burns. "We look forward to continuing to serve the area with our new partners and a three-base system that will allow faster access to critically ill and injured patients."
The change in services also extends to Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where ShandsCair operates its own fleet of helicopters stationed in Gainesville (Alachua County), Perry (Taylor County) and Ocala (Marion County). Together, the six helicopters cover the entire North and North Central Florida regions and parts of Southeast Georgia.
As the first trauma program in Florida and the region's only adult and pediatric Level I trauma program, efficiency and expertise are two qualities that have defined the Shands Jacksonville program for 28 years, said Russ Armistead, CEO of Shands Jacksonville.
"No one else can do what we do here at TraumaOne," said Armistead. "We have to undergo rigorous site visits in order to maintain our Level I status. It's not an easy inspection to pass, as other trauma centers in the area have recently shown. Yet, we consistently excel in areas like our acute rehabilitative services and psychosocial support systems."
Armistead also added that regulations in safety have reduced the number of trauma cases nationally, which is a desirable goal. However, he said this can result in decreased opportunities for trauma physicians to gain hands-on experience and training.
It is important for standards to remain stringent and for Level I trauma centers to maintain a regional scope, he said, without having their resources divided or depleted by less-qualified health providers.
As a final touch, the change in helicopters gave leaders at Shands Jacksonville a chance to honor those responsible for creating and maintaining Florida's trauma system. Each of the three units is now branded with the initials of men who realized the importance of combining transport operations with critical care to get the best possible outcomes.
Each helicopter has the number "655," denoting Shands Jacksonville's 655 West 8th Street address. The number is followed by initials. "RA" stands for Raymond Alexander, MD, considered by many to be the father of Florida's trauma system. "JT" is for Joseph Tepas III, M.D., who along with Alexander proposed and followed through on the idea. The third helicopter displays "DV" for David Vukich, M.D., who was chair of emergency medicine at Shands Jacksonville when the system was created.
At the ceremony, Tepas reflected on the ways TraumaOne has grown and how it continues to evolve for the benefit of its patients.
"You can talk about this program from the perspective of logistics and the institution, but the real perspective is the absolute passion of our staff to provide the most effective care for our patients," said Tepas. "What you see here is our opportunity to extend our reach and most importantly, when seconds literally count, to provide the most efficient transportation and intensive care at the scene."