Helipad flight check good, all systems go by Dr. Patrick Kelly, Emergency Medicine

  • Wednesday, June 19, 2013


As an emergency room physician at Roper St. Francis (RSF), I have the opportunity to experience firsthand the positive impact made by the new rooftop helipad, which opened in February. The first of its kind in downtown Charleston, the new helipad is located on top of Roper Hospital.
From a transportation standpoint, helicopter service at RSF is nothing new. What makes the helipad unique is the amount of time saved for airlifted patients in need of care due to the sudden onset of severe medical or surgical problems. Prior to the new Helipad, our patients transported by helicopter would first land on top of the President Street parking garage. They would then be transported to the Roper Hospital emergency department. The simple process of getting a patient from the parking garage to the hospital was about 15 to 20 minutes, which could vary depending on weather and traffic conditions. And when it's an emergency, every minute is crucial.

Saving minutes

With the new helipad in full operation, patients transported by helicopter arrive on the roof and a team of emergency personnel greet the flight crew and help with transporting the patient via an elevator directly down into the emergency department, the cardiac catheterization lab or the operating room. In the first three months of operation the Roper Hospital helipad received 18 patients and saved 1,100 minutes in transportation time. The majority of the patients were flown to us from secondary markets, which include Beaufort, Hampton and Colleton County. The hospital currently uses two community-based helicopter services to transport patients.

When to fly

There are many factors to consider when determining if airlifting a patient is the best mode of transportation. To assist with these decisions, RSF is currently developing protocols with local emergency medical services (EMS). A helicopter can't land just anywhere – local EMS providers have designated a number of approved landing pads throughout our communities for the helicopter to use.
Other factors that come into play are the weather, traffic conditions, time of day and the distance to RSF.  For example: If it's 3 a.m. in Mount Pleasant, traffic will most likely be minimal and an ambulance can run safely down Highway 17. If that is the case, EMS may decide that it's just as quick to transport a patient by ambulance downtown; however, traffic at 3 p.m. in Mount Pleasant is a different story and airlifting a patient may be the best mode of transportation.
Keep in mind that we are talking about patients who are suffering due to the sudden onset of severe, and often life-threatening, medical and surgical conditions. All of the protocols put in place for RSF helipad transport are designed to help the hospital work smartly with its available resources. The project was funded solely through philanthropy – from donors who realized that every moment matters when saving lives. Those patients who are flown in from outlying areas of the Lowcountry know that this is true.
The helipad service has already had a positive impact on those patients receiving care and is truly a great community asset.

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