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High in the Sky: Military Medevac Partnership Saves Lives

Story by Alexandra Snyder

Fort Belvoir Community Hospital

The D.C. Capital area is vibrant, bustling, but despite the ready access it provides to entertainment, outdoor activities and shopping, the congested roadways can present problems for ground transportation. Rapid travel over highways is impossible in most areas of the region during peak hours, and when an injured or ill patient must be transported quickly, those delays can become a danger to life and limb.

Fortunately, for the last 18 months, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital has partnered with the D.C. National Guard, to transport its most critical patients by helicopter, saving time, money, and most importantly, lives.
“When a patient needs a level of care we cannot provide, our team ensure they’re taken to where they can get it,” said Miguel Serra, supervisory medic and operations manager for Belvoir Hospital.

The partnership, which is slated to expand to other military treatment facilities in the area in April, utilizes two U.S. Army helicopters- the UH-72 Lakota and the UA-60 Black Hawk, said Serra.

“Originally, we used only the Lakota, which is a smaller helicopter. Having the Black Hawk in our rotation essentially doubles our capacity. We can transport more patients, more medical staff and more equipment,” said Serra. “This capability is better for the patient, and because each transport with the air unit saves approximately 10 to 12 thousand dollars in privatized transportation costs, it’s more fiscally responsible for the Military Health System, as well.”

The partnership, which transports 1-2 patients per week on average, benefits the medevac unit members as much as it does the hospital, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike Vasquez, an instructor pilot in the National Guard.

“These transports give our medics hands-on training working with patients and other medical staff every day. Our pilots and medics get exposure to real-world medical cases which better prepares them for future deployments to hazardous areas,” said Vasquez.

Warrant Officer 1 Artie Hinaman, an aeromedical evacuation pilot with the unit, added, “A trip to Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center] from Belvoir Hospital in an ambulance can take up to two hours or more in bad traffic. Our helicopter can get a patient there in approximately 7-8 minutes. That’s a win for our crew, the patients and the military as a whole.”

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