Halldale Group Editor Marty Kauchak interviewed Cameron Curtis, CMM, CAE, President & CEO of Association of Air Medical Services & Medevac Foundation International, and Deborah Boudreaux, AAMS Board Chair, Chair and Director of Teddy Bear Transport, Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
CAT: Tell us how AAMS has been on the frontline in the fight against Covid-19.
Cameron Curtis (CC): When Covid-19 first hit, we all underestimated the impact of the pandemic. As an association, we have been conducting weekly virtual town hall webinars, for anyone who wants to join, with subject matter experts on topics from pilot safety to operational transport impact. The initial town halls covered front-line response: a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other resources, how to keep pilots and crews safe, and evolving practices as we learned more about the virus. Although our members are trained to fly regardless of the situation, including infectious diseases – we haven’t seen anything on this scale.
CAT: Can you share any metrics on the number of missions and such your members have completed during the pandemic?
CC: We have seen a 40% drop in volume, due to the stay-at-home orders, as more people stay off the roads and away from activities that require emergency care. Hospitals are also showing a decrease in volume because people are afraid to go to these facilities – the emergency room, the doctor – when they are sick, for fear of Covid-19 exposure.
CAT: That 40% drop is a bit of a surprise. I thought perhaps the number of C-19 related missions would have increased your total flight numbers.
Deborah Boudreaux (DB): If you look at a hospital-based program, and specifically, in a pediatric facility, we have a seen a drastic drop in emergency room patients. Before the pandemic, typical ER admittance was 350 children a day – now we’re seeing on average 120 a day. Hospitals have prepared for this. We are trained to care for the sickest patients every day and prepare for situations like Covid-19 in simulation labs and annual competencies. We have the appropriate PPE and know how to use it. There was a global PPE shortage in the beginning, but we are now well prepared to care for all patients.
CAT: Beyond the hospital teams just mentioned, air medical providers are also trained to respond to major events.
CC: Yes, air medical crews have been trained to treat people with respiratory disorders and other emergencies.
CAT: From the perspective of the air crews, were this community’s previous exercises and other training events and instruction adequate to meet the challenges of C-19?
CC: In most cases, our medical crews are trained to remain calm and provide the critical care required based on the situation. They are trained to avoid touching their face and wear the appropriate protective gear. Where we have seen some additional training is with the pilot community. They are in the front of the aircraft and aren’t medical professionals – what is second nature for the medical crew may not be for the pilots. In this case, the pilots are receiving additional training on PPE use and maintaining appropriate distance from a patient. This has been a team effort of the crews helping the pilots. Their primary goal is to keep the crew and the patient safe.
CAT: Is the community preparing C-19 lessons-learned for future training events and exercises, as well as classroom instruction?
CC: Yes, we plan to provide education on pandemic preparedness at this November’s Air Medical Transport Conference https://aams.org/events/amtc/. We have a Safety Management Training Academy scheduled for late July and a Medical Transport Leadership Institute for late August. We also have a Safety Committee, and once the response to the pandemic has settled, I’d like them to focus on guidelines and best practices for pandemic and emergency preparedness, beyond normal readiness. Our people are very prepared for something like this. My goal is to provide white papers, standards, guidelines, and other resources in one place to be shared within the critical care transport community.
DB: This is a part of the training for first responders – EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, nurses – we all take courses and this is part of the curriculum. That may become more stringent but they are all well prepared to deal with these cases. There will be benchmarking and evidence-based practices to guide us as we go forward. As an overall association and industry, we have done a very good job.
CAT: Are there supply and demand challenges in the air medical services community, much like we observe at the airlines and other civilian aviation organizations?
CC: There are shortages, but our crews have adapted and created safe solutions for reusing PPE such as N95 masks.
CAT: And after the pandemic, in the next several years, do you see your organizations having a shortage of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft pilots?
CC: That is very interesting. We had a townhall meeting on April 28 on pilot safety during Covid-19 and many of these same questions came up. No, we’re not seeing that on the scale the commercial airlines were experiencing prior to the pandemic. If we do have a shortage, it would be our providers’ ability to get pilots to rural bases where the staff are flown in and out based on need.
CAT: Anything else to add?
CC: Yes. In my leadership capacity at the Association of Air Medical Services & Medevac Foundation International, one concern is a high rate of substance abuse, suicide, and PTSD that we see in the critical care transport industry, even prior to Covid-19. Our crews are trained to treat situations that would seem unimaginable to the public. This also includes pilots.
The MedEvac Foundation will launch a wellness series in May as part of our Taking Care of Our Own initiative. This initiative started last year with in-person events, but we’ve adapted to virtual events during the pandemic. It’s an opportunity for individuals who feel that despair to interact with other people who share that experience and have tools and solutions to help.
FOR MORE on the aviation training community’s response to the pandemic, read Marty Kauchak’s features in the new issue of CAT:
- Dealing with Black Swan Events
- Adaptive Responses to an Unprecedented Crisis