SPRINGFIELD — When someone has a life-threatening accident where every minute matters, they can look to the skies and know that a Lifestar helicopter can help.
Lifestar helicopter service is a small but vital part of Effingham County’s health community. It began about 35 years ago as part of the Memorial Health System in Savannah.
Today, the airborne lifeline is based in Effingham County on the Effingham Health System campus in Springfield.
The service moved its base to Effingham County about a dozen years ago. The number of calls per month varies but can be as many as 35-45.
“Probably the highest number we have flown is in the middle to high fifties,” pilot Mike Phillips said.
The Effingham County base has teams that include a pilot, a medic and a nurse. It features 13 full-time members who work 24-hour shifts, which effectively has them working the equivalent of 2 weeks in one. Pilots work 12-hour shifts.
The local teams are activated by a call from their dispatch center based in Omaha, Nebraska. Once local ambulance, fire, police and Lifestar are called to respond to an emergency situation, the Omaha dispatcher puts the call in to the Effingham County Lifestar office, which takes about about three seconds.
Phillips said, “At some point, the medical crew out in the field, they generally know at some point they’re going to need some critical care intervention, that we offer the next level of care on the scene or in a hospital, that they have to sustain that level of care in transport. So we bring two things with us — one is to travel expeditiously by air, which is we get them there quicker through traffic and obstacles, and the second thing we bring is a level of care, an emergency room level of care to the field.”
Phillips said Lifestar teams are able to do emergency room duties on the scene. He described it as bringing the emergency room to the patients.
He also said there has been some impact from COVID-19, although team members typically wear protective gear.
Phillips said, “You know, we fly infected patients all the time, whether it be TB or other patients. We’re having to wear this PPE and protect ourselves and look after one another.”
In terms of protection, they are treating every patient as an infected one. The whole purpose, he said is to keep the aircraft in service.
Phillips has been flying 30 years overall and 22 in Effingham County. He said having to transport children and people he knows are some of his toughest calls.
He said it’s great to see a good outcome, although in many cases they never get to see how things work out. He said it is satisfying to learn that he contributed to a positive result for the patient.
Phillips also said that, because they touch lives in and are on duty for so many hours at a time, community members will occasionally bring them food. They even receive helicopter drawings from children.
He said, especially now with the pandemic, the community has “just been fantastic.”