State rescue team makes a move to better serve county

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SUSSEX COUNTY-One man riding with a friend along Route 515 in Vernon on Feb. 18, did not know that in a few seconds his life would hang in the balance and that his cry would be heard by a small group of emergency personnel stationed two counties away. A few seconds after 4:30 p.m. a head-on collision with another vehicle left the passenger with both lefts broken and his kness shattered. This is when the NorthSTAR (Northern Shock Trauma Air Rescue) was called into action in Sussex County. A trip the emergency response unit has done ove 100 times in the past year alone. NorthSTAR helicopter transported the male driver to the closest trauma center, in this case Morristown Memorial Hospital, in a flight which took approximately 13 minutes as opposed to the 40 minutes or so driving time an ambulance would take to cover the 45 mile distance. The NorthSTAR medical evacuation (medevac) helicopter has been in service in the northern half of New Jersey since 1998. The emergency transport helicopters are equipped and staffed to provide a combination of emergency, intensive and pre-hospital care. The aircraft is capable of flying a total of two stretcher patients, four medical crew members and two pilots. The most requests for service for the helicopter are to scenes of trauma such as car accidents, burns or industrial accidents. The patients are taken to the nearest trauma center, a dedicated department within hospitals capable of providing the necessary critical treatment within the so called "Golden Hour," the time period in which the lives of a majority of critically injured patients can be saved if definitive surgical intervention is provided. On Feb. 4, the unit relocated from the roof of University Hospital in Newark to Somerset airport in Bedminster. The move came in part to better service the area encompassing Sussex County. "The move was undertaken in response to the growing need for emergency transport in the western part of the state," said Chief Flight Nurse Dan Smith. Sussex County is part of the area which has seen an increase in demand for this type of service. "The western part of the state is characterized by heavily trafficked roads and increasing suburban development. Accident victims on these roads in critical need of medical treatment can be transported to the closest trauma centers such as Robert Wood Johnson and Morristown Memorial far more quickly now that NorthSTAR is located at Somerset airport." In the winter months, Sussex County is visited by the medevac service more than any other county in the state. Figures provided by NorthSTAR show that for the period October to December 2004 Sussex County had 38 callouts for the helicopter. The next closest was Hunterdon County with 31 and with Ocean County, third on the list, having only 15 callouts in the same time period. According to Terry Hoban, Air Medical Coordinator of the NorthSTAR Medevac Program, the move has slightly reduced the flying time needed to reach Sussex County from the time it took to fly from Newark. "It took us 14 minutes to fly from Newark to Newton in Sussex County. From our new location it will take us only 12 minutes to get to Newton." Although the amount of time saved may seem minimal, it can be a life or death difference in some emergencies. "Sussex is a large county and we respond to calls there in winter months mainly to attend accidents occurring in recreational activities such as skiing and snowboarding," said Hoban. "Sussex generally has amongst the largest snowfall in the state and tends to stay colder longer than most other counties. There is a direct correlation to heavy snow falls and people going outside to shovel paths and driveways and resultant cardiac events." According to Hoban, the frequency of visits changes in summer time with the coastal counties seeing the most callouts due to near drowning and diving accidents. While the local hospitals in Sussex County never receive patients from NorthSTAR because the facilities lack trauma centers, they still use the helicopter in times of emergency. "We use the helicopter when we need to transfer a patient from our hospital to one with more sophisticated equipment," said Tom Golden of the Public Relations Department at Newton Memorial Hospital. According to statistics provided by NorthSTAR, of all the patients transported from the scene of an accident or from other hospitals, 57-percent, or a little more than 300 persons, were taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital. The next most frequently used hospital is the University Hospital in Newark taking 12-percent of the trauma patients.