WASHINGTON - On July 3, 1983, a MedSTAR Transport helicopter lifted off from MedStar Washington Hospital Center to retrieve a patient from Prince William County, Va. That flight was the first of more than 55,000 medical missions MedSTAR would embark upon to save lives.
After three decades, the familiar blue-and-yellow helicopters are still flying high, delivering emergency medical care around the clock to the Washington region's most critical patients. Their service area extends from West Virginia to Delaware to New Jersey to Pennsylvania and central Virginia.
The MedSTAR (Medical Shock-Trauma Acute Resuscitation) fleet was the Washington region's first hospital-based air medical service. MedSTAR was founded on the tenets that it delivered critical care to injured patients, much like a MASH unit used for military triage.
"An ambulance transport has evolved from "swoop and scoop' operations to a flying mobile intensive care unit," said Wade Smith, NREMT-P, MedSTAR's first and now longest serving flight paramedic, who has been with the program since the beginning. "At first, MedSTAR was driven by trauma. Now, most patients are transported for medical reasons, especially for sophisticated services that are available at tertiary centers."
"We pick up and take care of the sickest, most vulnerable patients in our region," said Christopher Wuerker, MD, medical director, MedSTAR Transport. "Ninety-five percent of MedSTAR's missions are critical care inter-hospital transports, with the remaining five percent being scene responses where we evacuate patients from an accident scene to a hospital. It's all about time, speed and care."
The standard flight crew includes a pilot, a critical-care nurse and a critical-care paramedic. Additional crew - including a physician and a respiratory therapist - can be added as needed. Currently, one critical care ambulance and three EC-135 aircraft operate out of three air bases in Maryland - Fort Meade, Clinton and St. Mary's County - to improve response times to remote locations.
The state-of-the-art Communications Center in Lanham, Md., coordinates flight and ground transports. Its workstations are equipped with new dispatch and telecom programs, including real-time satellite tracking of the aircraft, with color weather radar information and satellite telephone capabilities.
Among the greatest accomplishments: MedSTAR Transport was among the first medical responders to the Pentagon attack on Sept. 11, 2001. It flew four of the 10 critical burn patients who were brought to the Hospital Center following the attack on the Pentagon.