Houston hospital system launches air ambulance service

HCA Houston Healthcare unveiled its first medical helicopter on Friday and plans to add a second helicopter later this year


Todd Ackerman
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — HCA Houston Healthcare has launched a medical emergency helicopter service, the area’s first new hospital-based air ambulance program since Memorial Hermann Healthcare founded Life Flight nearly 44 years ago.

The HCA system unveiled the service Friday at The Woman’s Hospital of Texas, where the first helicopter, already in use, is based. A second helicopter, to be based at the system’s Conroe hospital, will join the program in late winter or early spring, HCA officials said.

HCA Houston Healthcare unveiled its new AIRLife air ambulance program Friday. The first AIRLife helicopter will be based at The Woman's Hospital of Texas.
HCA Houston Healthcare unveiled its new AIRLife air ambulance program Friday. The first AIRLife helicopter will be based at The Woman's Hospital of Texas. (Photo/HCA Houston Healthcare)

“We think there’s a need for additional air ambulance service in the region,” said Sean Everett, HCA’s vice president of marketing. “In particular, outlying areas where we have Level II trauma centers will benefit from this service.”

HCA officials said the program is “absolutely” a signal that the system wants to play a bigger role in emergency care in the region said “it will transform how EMS service is delivered in some areas.”

The officials said the greatest need for additional air service is in the area’s north-northwest quadrant, where HCA has hospitals in Conroe, Kingwood and a northwest area just west of I-45 and about seven miles north of Beltway 8.

Memorial Hermann’s Life Flight currently has a helicopter and helipad at the system's hospital in The Woodlands.

HCA Houston Healthcare has 13 area hospitals, two of which have Level II trauma centers — Conroe and Clear Lake — so classified because they are able to treat the most complex cases. Twelve of the hospitals have helipads, all ground-level.

The helicopters, staffed with nurses, paramedics and pilots, will operate around the clock and respond to emergency situations involving both adults and children, said HCA officials. The helicopters will respond to emergencies within a 120-mile range.

In comparison, Memorial Hermann’s Life Flight has six aircraft operating out of five strategically located bases (besides The Woodlands, those are the system’s flagship hospital in the Texas Medical Center, a combination of its Sugar Land and Katy hospitals and airports in Baytown and Pearland. They serve a 150-mile radius.

Life Flight, founded in 1976 by Dr. James “Red” Duke, is the nation’s second oldest air ambulance service and one of the nation’s busiest. It averages about 3,500 missions a year.

HCA did not immediately have a projected number of missions it anticipates annually.

HCA officials Friday also unveiled a new mobile simulation ambulance, complete with adult, child and infant mannequins, that it will bring to Houston-area EMS facility for training purposes.

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©2020 the Houston Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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