The costs associated with running a certified Trauma Center are high, and because of this, many areas across the country—especially the more rural regions—are under-served. At one time, southern Colorado and northern New Mexico were among them. There are a multitude of rural hospitals in that region, all of them staffed by dedicated, compassionate health care professionals. In 2001, those facilities had one of their biggest wishes granted when Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo, Colorado, became home to a certified Level II Trauma Center. This is one of the things the smaller most needed for their critically sick and injured patients requiring high-level, specialized medical attention.
Had you asked any one of these hospitals what their other biggest wish was, they might well have told you of their need for a readily-available, locally-based emergency air ambulance provider with an ICU-level clinical staff. In August of 2015, that wish was became a reality with the opening of Southern Colorado Care Connect. Based in La Junta and operated by REACH Air Medical Services, CareConnect is centrally located among the hospitals, greatly reducing response time. More importantly, Care Connect flies 24/7 all year round, and it is less than an hour away from Parkview Medical Center, whom the rural facilities have designated as their preferred tertiary care provider.
Together, these two significant additions to the region’s healthcare landscape paint a much brighter picture for critically ill and injured patients. “In providing trauma care, minutes can truly mean the difference between life and death,” states Mike Baxter, Parkview Medical Center President and CEO. The impact of time saved combined with the availability of specialized medical attention is inarguable; lives are being saved. Recent research indicates that survival rates increase dramatically for individuals who receive timely treatment at a trauma center.
Another piece of good news is the size of the region CareConnect is able to serve. “There are over 300,000 people that live in Southern Colorado and over 20,000 square miles in this area,” says Renee Elwell, Director of Emergency and Trauma Services at Parkview Medical Center. Tourists and other visitors to the area also benefit from the availability of emergency air transport should the need arise.
In addition to patient transfer requests made by hospitals, CareConnect responds to 911 emergencies. This covers a diversity of situations including vehicle accidents, hunting and wilderness emergencies, heart attacks and strokes, etc.
CareConnect’s service area will experience the benefits of its presence in many ways. Anna Blair, Vice President of Business Relations & Development for REACH Air Medical Services, says, “For instance, the CareConnect base in La Junta is only a five-minute flight away from Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center, which in the past has had to wait 40 minutes or longer after making a request.”
Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center is also located in La Junta, and it was a big day when they made their first call for a CareConnect patient transport. This particular transport, which occurred on August 5, will be long remembered by all involved, and not just because it was the first flight. Says Blair, “The first flight was truly an example of all the links in the chain working together to provide what was right for the patient.” That day, an older gentleman from Minnesota was traveling alone through southern Colorado. Well, not alone—his dog was along for the ride. At five pounds or less, this little canine fulfilled a significant role—as his owner’s service dog. Early in the evening, the pair was involved in a serious accident. The vehicle rolled. There was significant impact to the driver’s side, and the man lost consciousness. He was extricated from his car by emergency personnel. He was taken by ambulance to Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center. Doctors there found that he had sustained trauma to multiple systems within his body. He had fractured vertebrae at both ends of his spine, an intracerebral hemorrhage (a burst blood vessel in the brain), and a broken left arm. He needed a higher level of care than Arkansas Valley could provide, so they contacted CareConnect.
A CareConnect helicopter was soon headed their way. On board with Pilot Matthew Jansson were Flight Paramedic Ephron Brent, Flight Paramedic Daniel Workman and Flight Nurse Jennifer Marino. The flight crew went into the hospital and introduced themselves to the patient, then began efficiently preparing him for transport. The patient had just one concern. He made it plain that he wasn’t planning to go anywhere without his dog. Flight Paramedic Ephron Brent, who grew up in Arriba, a small Colorado town north of La Junta, says, “The patient had some fairly significant, potentially life-altering injuries. But as this man lay there on that backboard, his highest priority was clearly his dog.”
Pilot Matthew Jansson and Flight Paramedic Daniel Workman conferred regarding the dog. Workman has flown with REACH for several years and was in La Junta to provide support and training to the new base and its staff, an assignment he says he enjoyed. “Every time you teach someone, you learn yourself,” he shares. “Being there was very beneficial for me.” For Workman, a series of jobs after college led him to emergency medicine, specifically a stint as a lifeguard. One day there was a medical emergency at the pool, and he didn’t know what to do. “So I went to school after that and learned what to do,” he says. “It’s turned into quite a profession.”
Right now, he had another important decision to make. He and Jansson agreed on the choice that was most in line with REACH’s mission of “In every situation, do what is right for the patient.” The dog would fly along.
Brent observes, “It’s humbling to step back, take a breath and truly do what the patient needs most in that moment. For that man, in that moment, it was all about the dog, and Danny and Matt made it happen.” With a decade of EMS under his belt, Brent was working as an Emergency Room paramedic when the CareConnect opportunity arose, turning into another example of a good decision. “I enjoy every minute of being up in the air,” he says.
Flight Nurse Jennifer Marino, who said she knew from the time she was a little girl that she wanted to be a nurse, agrees that they did what was most imperative for their passenger’s peace of mind. “The patient did not want to leave without taking his dog,” she says. Jennifer grew up in Pueblo, and being clear from youth about her desired line of work helped her get there quickly. “It was a pretty straight shot,” she shares, “and pretty soon, I will have been a nurse for seven years. Before CareConnect, I was working in the ER at Parkview. My director told me about the CareConnect job and recommended me. It was a great opportunity.” Brent concurs, sharing his thoughts on REACH’s acquisition of the company. “It was the best possible thing that could have happened,” he says. “As this has unfolded, I couldn’t be more excited.”
Anna Blair says that REACH was really drawn to the people who started the CareConnect service. “They chose to put a base in a place other companies had chosen not to. They committed to communities that needed it, and that kind of commitment holds a very near and dear place in our hearts.” Of the pilots and clinicians at the La Junta base, Blair comments, “We were very, very blessed to have the initial group for CareConnect come through our REACH Academy. These are people who love serving an area that has been underserved.”
Says Marino, “When we went to the academy in California, it was very apparent that REACH was an impressive company. I like how involved we are with all the operations at our base. I love the clinical knowledge and skills, the aviation—and it’s just cool to fly.”
On August 5, this crew got their patient to the care he needed. Patients, rather. “It was good that we took the dog,” Workman reports.” He adds that the reasons went beyond meeting the patient’s needs. “It turned out the dog was hurt, too. Because we took the dog with us, he ended up at the vet getting the care he needed.”
Everyone at CareConnect feels honored by this opportunity to contribute to the wonderful communities in their service area. Each staff and crew member possess tremendous skill and caring, and it shows in the quality of their work and in the tone of their interactions. REACH thanks everyone at the La Junta base for their dedication and sends healthy, happy wishes to them and to each member of the communities they serve.