- Associated Press - Monday, May 2, 2016

MCCOMB, Miss. (AP) - Hospitals hum 24 hours a day with the activity of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. What Gina Handley hears at work, however, isn’t so much a hum as a roar.

Handley is a flight nurse, and the roar of a helicopter’s turbine engine is the background noise of her routine every day in her airborne office.

A native of St. Louis and a nurse since 2008, Handley has been flying for three years. She spoke to the McComb Lions Club on April 19, sharing stories of her life in the air.

Rescue 9, as the Bell 407 helicopter is known, is based at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center and operated by Dallas-based Med-Trans. The medical crew are employees of Ochsner Health System of Louisiana, the medical center’s strategic partner.

Each crew includes the pilot, a paramedic and a nurse. Handley is also a licensed paramedic.

Beyond the crew the helicopter generally has room for only one patient, but depending on weight a family member is sometimes allowed to accompany the patient.

Weight is a serious concern for helicopter flights. The aircraft can carry only so much, and Handley and her crewmates undergo monthly weigh-ins. Fuel will even be taken on in varying quantities according to the combined weight of each crew.

They fly in inclement weather but not during heavy downpours or thunderstorms.

Most flights carry patients from one hospital to another. If a necessary service or procedure were not available locally, for example, the patient could be transported from McComb to Jackson or New Orleans.

The chopper can also pick up patients directly from accident scenes or other remote sites. More complicated operations than the typical hospital landings, those trips require a hundred-foot-square landing area and, if at night, appropriate lighting.

Handley’s team has averaged around 25 calls per month recently. A trailer sitting adjacent to the helipad behind the medical center emergency department serves as office and sleeping space for the crew during their down time.

Nurses and paramedics work 24-hour shifts, while pilots’ work hours are dictated by strict Federal Aviation Administration regulations. They may not be on duty longer than 14 hours in a row, whether in the air or not.

The crews aim to take off within eight minutes of receiving a call. Once they reach their destination, their goal is to be on the ground no longer than 10 minutes.

Gina Handley has never had to make an emergency landing but her crews have occasionally been diverted because of bad weather. She takes it in stride, though.

It’s all in a day’s work.


Information from: Enterprise-Journal, https://www.enterprise-journal.com

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