Wings Air Rescue, MSHA provide dedicated transport service for neonates in rural Virginia, portions of Kentucky

Photo by Dave Boyd
In the nine year history of Wings Air Rescue, hundreds of neonatal patients have been transported from Kentucky and Southwest Virginia to the Johnson City Medical Center.

For more than 10 years, Mountain States Health Alliance's Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC) has served Southwest Virginia, portions of Kentucky, Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina as a Regional Referral Center for the transport of infants through Wings Air Rescue -- the Tri-Cities only hospital-based regional air ambulance service -- and by ground transport.
"We respond immediately from JCMC with our in-house, dedicated neonatal transport professionals eliminating the need to wait for a helicopter to respond from out-of-state for a neonatal patient transport," said Chief Flight Nurse Dwain Rowe, who has flown with Wings Air Rescue since its inception nearly nine years ago.
According to MSHA Executive Director of Women's and Children's Services Lisa Smithgall, JCMC has regional affiliation agreements with the majority of hospitals in Southwest Virginia. Recent reports in the media regarding a transport service provided by Virginia State Police allude to the lack of a medical emergency transport service for critically ill infants. However, Smithgall said MSHA has a Collaborative Agreement for Neonatal Services (Neonatal Transport agreement) with the following hospitals in Virginia: Johnston Memorial, Abingdon; Bon Secours St. Mary's, Norton; Norton Community, Norton; Clinch Valley Medical Center, Richlands; Smythe County, Marion; Russell County Medical Center, Lebanon; Buchanan General, Grundy; and, Lonesome Pine, Big Stone Gap. This agreement is in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Health Regulations. The nearest Regional Referral Center in Virginia is Carillion Hospital in Roanoke. JCMC is one of five state designated Regional Referral Centers in Tennessee. The other four hospitals include: University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Erlanger in Chattanooga; Vanderbilt in Nashville; and, University of Tennessee at Memphis.
When Wings Air Rescue is dispatched for a neonatal high-risk transport, a dedicated team consisting of a Registered Nurse and/or Neonatal Nurse Practitioner and a Respiratory Therapist provide the necessary assistance for the smallest of patients. This same team, according to Smithgall, provides ground transport, which is often necessary for the less-acute infants who require tertiary service, or necessary due to weather restrictions.
"For more than 10 years, MSHA has also served the residents of Kentucky by providing ground and air transport to and from regional medical centers," said MSHA Chief Nursing Executive Kathryn Wilhoit. "In terms of cost to the patient, there are various Medicaid and insurance methods that will cover the financial end of caring for infants when financial assistance is necessary. However, there are many cases in which certain costs are written off.
"It is important to realize that Wings Air Rescue brings babies to the services of specialized neonatologists and over 18 pediatric subspecialists who are available in our region only at the Children's Hospital at JCMC in cooperation with the James H. Quillen College of Medicine," Wilhoit added.
As part of the regional effort to care for infants, the JCMC Neonatal Transport Team has been flown at times in the past by the Virginia State Police to Virginia facilities. The team would then require assistance to transport the infant by ground or by Wings Air Rescue from a Virginia facility to another hospital.
"At present, Med-Trans Corporation and MSHA operate a helicopter from JCMC as well as from Lakeway Regional Hospital in Morristown," said Rowe. "In the history of Wings Air Rescue, we have transported hundreds of neonatal patients from Kentucky and Southwest Virginia to the region's only Designated Regional Referral Center at JCMC. Overall, Wings Air Rescue has flown more than 5,000 patients since its inception."