New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s AirLink helicopter medical transport program is celebrating 20 years of service to the region.
When New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) brought the initial helicopter here in 2001, it was the first time a medical helicopter was based full-time in southeastern North Carolina. Today, NHRMC, now part of Novant Health, has three AirLink helicopters that operate 24/7 and are based in Bolivia at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, in Whiteville at Columbus Regional Healthcare System and outside Jacksonville.
The helicopters provide rapid transport of patients, including those who have suffered a stroke, heart attack or traumatic injury and who need critical, specialty interventions available at NHRMC and other hospitals. Getting access to treatment faster can help save lives and improve outcomes.
Over the years, AirLink has grown in size and capabilities to better serve patients across the region.
Every AirLink helicopter has highly specialized equipment, including blood products, laboratory testing, high-flow nasal cannulas, ventilators and cardiac monitors with hemodynamic monitoring systems.
In April 2021, AirLink hit a record high of patient flights in single month, with 145 trips. In 2020, the helicopters completed more than 1,100 patient transports and logged a total of 184,267 miles flown. The team is staffed with a pilot, a critical care registered nurse and a critical care paramedic.
Meanwhile, VitaLink, NHRMC’s critical care ground transport, is celebrating 30 years serving the community. VitaLink units are specially equipped to care for patients with complicated medical histories who need ongoing medical care when being transported between medical facilities.
VitaLink crews completed more than 17,000 patient transports in 2020, including 500 pediatric/neonatal patient transports, and logged more than 1.1 million miles on the road.
“Over the years, AirLink and VitaLink have both experienced unprecedented growth coupled with major advances in clinical care and technology,” said John Popella, NHRMC’s director of critical care transport. “But one thing stands out above all else: The incredible dedication, perseverance, skill, care and heart that drives all that wear – and have worn – our uniform. Our teams care for our community with immeasurable compassion, skill, love and teamwork, and have touched tens of thousands of lives in our decades of service.”
The transport systems have also earned national recognition in recent years.
Last year, AirLink/VitaLink Critical Care Transport received the Mission: Lifeline EMS Gold Plus Award for exceeding national quality improvement benchmarks for the rapid recognition and treatment of patients who are experiencing chest pain and are diagnosed with the most severe heart attacks: ST elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI.
In 2019, AirLink and VitaLink received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems for compliance with national standards of excellence. At the time, AirLink and VitaLink were among 162 services nationwide to receive the accreditation.