MedEvac services face no-fly nights
EASTON — Emergencies that occur on the Mid-Shore between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. most likely will not receive Maryland State Police Trooper 6 MedEvac service, due to helicopter pilot and flight paramedic shortages.
Easton Airport Manager Micah Risher outlined the issue Dec. 20 at Talbot County’s annual meeting with the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. Recent statements by MSP spokesman Greg Shipley indicated there are about 14 helicopter pilot vacancies and 17 flight medic vacancies statewide.
“Members of our Aviation Command have met with officials in Talbot and Dorchester counties, the Maryland State Firemen’s Association and area fire departments regarding our commitment to ensure a MedEvac helicopter is available when needed,” Shipley said. “If Trooper 6 is not immediately available, we will continue to use other helicopters in our fleet that can respond within established protocols, as well as our other allies
that are part of Maryland’s world-renowned integrated emergency medical services system to provide this lifesaving resource.”
Shipley said state police efforts to recruit helicopter pilots and flight paramedics are continuing.
Director of Emergency Services/Assistant County Manager Clay Stamp said from his understanding, the state police have had challenges with manpower and he understands they are working diligently to address the issue.
“The Maryland State Police, like ourselves, operate in an emergency services system,” Stamp said. “In their case, they have pilots, flight paramedics that they have to keep on board in order to provide service just like we have to provide paramedics emergency medical technicians dispatchers.
“From time to time, it becomes challenging to attract help when certain things occur that impact scheduling.”
MSP Helicopter Trooper 6, based at Easton Airport, currently is “grounded” from to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Thursday due to staffing shortages. The MSP has contingency plans that allow for helicopters from the western shore, such as Martin State Airport of Andrews Air Force Base, or Salisbury to cover the MidShore, but that delays the arrival of potentially lifesaving resources.
“Services being reduced by 48 hours a week, after seven o’clock tonight, we don’t have a trooper in our first due area,” Risher said. “We will have to find someone to pick it up.
“Why it is important for us is because there is no trauma center in the Mid-Shore. So talking to the troopers, one thing where you get into a bad accident in Salisbury, they can ground transport you by ambulance to Peninsula Regional Medical Center and get that in trauma care. They can’t do that in Easton, so that where its complicated.”
The delay in response time is compounded by the lack of a trauma center in the area. Patients must be take to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore or Peninsula Regional Medical Center, roughly 20 minutes flight time from Easton. Trooper 6 is the only MedEvac that does not have a trauma center in its “first due” area.
Stamp said the Maryland State Police Aviation Division has reached out to emergency responders to explain the situation. He also said they have established a program to ensure adequate coverage in the state through a series of strategic closures of certain bases while maintaining adequate coverage statewide.
“They are in a better position to explain the process they are using to get through their issue,” Stamp said. “They have explained the situation is temporary and that the Easton base will be fully staffed in the near future ... They are keeping us up to date as to the status.”
Because the shortages impact the entire state, Risher recommended that Trooper 6 be prioritized ahead of other helicopters and be fully staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The State Police Aviation Command needs financial resources to develop incentive programs to hire and retain aviation professionals.
Talbot County Manager Andy Hollis stood firm in saying there needs to be improvement.
“We fall on the hard for the establishment of this base in Easton Airport, and there is a reason for that,” Hollis said. “We want to make sure that, number one, that it stays there and that, number two, it operates at an optimum level of service. So yes in terms of service we are providing, it is working. But it could be improved back to where it was, and that would be the direction we would like to see it going.”
The Maryland State Police Aviation Command is experiencing a shortage of pilots and flight paramedics.