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Emergency helicopter is coming to Gainesville

POSTED: October 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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Considering that Hall County is home to the region’s largest hospital, many people are surprised to learn there has never been an air ambulance service stationed in Gainesville.

But that will change later this month. LifeNet Georgia, which currently operates a helicopter out of a base in Jefferson, is leasing the helipad at Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Lanier Park campus.

"All we’re waiting for is for our temporary quarters to be ready," said Chad Black, business development manager for LifeNet Georgia. "We’ll be in a trailer behind Lanier Park, and we just need our certificate of occupancy and inspection by the fire marshal. Then we can start."

Next year, when the medical center moves its hospital services from Lanier Park over to the new North Patient Tower on the main campus, LifeNet will move its offices inside the Lanier Park building.

Black said LifeNet has been trying for years to have a base in Gainesville, but the company wasn’t able to obtain space at the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

The medical center has a helipad on its main campus, but that landing area has to be kept open because it is frequently used by air ambulances.

Then Black, who is also a battalion chief with Hall County Fire Services, realized that the helipad at Lanier Park is almost never used anymore.

"When Chad Black approached us, we said absolutely we should get on board with this," said Dane Henry, vice president of support services for Northeast Georgia Health System. "It’s actually something that seemed very smart to do. Being able to partner with a large, respected provider of emergency evacuation services makes sense from a community standpoint."

Henry said the hospital had been wanting to have an on-site helicopter but didn’t want to get into the ambulance business.

LifeNet Georgia is part of Air Methods Corp., the country’s largest air ambulance service with about 340 helicopters nationwide. It operates seven helicopters in Georgia, based in Jefferson, Griffin, Conyers, Cartersville, Villa Rica, Fort Benning and Augusta.

Black said by relocating the Jefferson-based copter to Gainesville, LifeNet can substantially cut down on transit times to the Northeast Georgia counties that unit serves.

The helicopter is especially valuable to White County, which has no hospital and relies heavily on land and air ambulances to save victims of trauma, strokes and heart attacks.

"It takes us about 18 to 20 minutes to fly from Jefferson to Cleveland," Black said. "Relocating to Gainesville could cut flight time in half."

Heart attack patients often are flown to Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Ronnie Green Heart Center. But when someone has suffered a serious trauma such as a bad car accident, the helicopter has to bypass Gainesville and fly directly to Grady or other Atlanta hospitals that have trauma centers.

"By the time we get patients to Atlanta, we’re pushing toward the end of the ‘golden hour,’" Black said.

If victims of major trauma or heart attacks don’t start treatment within one hour, odds of survival drop dramatically.

Henry said having an air ambulance based in Gainesville could benefit people who live in mountain counties.

"It could make a huge difference in a patient’s outcome," he said.



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