GREENEVILLE — Wellmont Health System on Tuesday unveiled its air ambulance, a helicopter called Wellmont One to be based at Takoma Regional Hospital in Greeneville.
Sullivan County-based Wellmont plans to add a second helicopter to its fleet this year and base it in Sullivan County.
Leaders from the health system, the hospital and the Greene County business community gathered Tuesday to kick off the service, which is already responding to medical calls. Wellmont also installed new crew’s quarters at Takoma and built a new helipad there.
The competing Mountain States Health Alliance, based in Johnson City, operates Wings Air Rescue out of Johnson City and also has a helicopter out of Letcher County, Ky. Air ambulance services also are based out of Knoxville.
Wellmont One will work in conjunction with MedFlight II, the emergency helicopter service in Abingdon, Va., operated by Virginia State Police and staffed by Wellmont health professionals.
From its Greene County base, Wellmont One can respond to motor vehicle accidents and other emergency calls throughout East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Southeast Kentucky in situations in which the space of minutes can mean the difference between life and death, according to a news release from Wellmont.
In addition to responding to trauma calls, the Wellmont air ambulance will transfer patients from outlying hospitals to facilities such as Wellmont’s Level I and Level II trauma centers, Holston Valley Medical Center and Bristol Regional Medical Center, respectively.
“Every day in health care, there are instances where time saved means lives saved — and that’s why we considered it an essential part of our mission to add an air ambulance service,” said Bristol businessman A. Lee Shillito, chairman of the Wellmont board of directors. “Wellmont One can reach those who live in even the farthest corners of our region in a matter of minutes, in places where drive time to the nearest trauma center might be an hour.”
From Takoma Regional, the initial Wellmont One helicopter will be suited to respond rapidly to emergencies along the western corridor of Wellmont’s service area including Greene, Hawkins and Hancock counties.
It will be operated by a flight crew from EraMed of Coatesville, Pa., and all medical personnel will be Wellmont employees.
Carlyle Walton, president of Takoma Regional, said the presence of Wellmont One further enhances the hospital’s standing as a community hospital equipped with cutting-edge health care services. The hospital joined Wellmont last year in a partnership between Wellmont and Florida-based Adventist Health System.
At Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting for Wellmont One, Walton and dozens of others gathered near the helipad to listen to an actual recorded radio communication of one of Wellmont One’s earliest emergency transports.
“I can think of several dramatic things to say about what this means for Wellmont, Takoma Regional and the region’s health care, but there’s nothing more dramatic than hearing a Wellmont One call where a patient is being transported to receive rapid, life-saving treatment,” Walton said. “Providing health care is about making a difference — and Wellmont One will make a difference.”
Wellmont One also serves as the exclusive medical air transport for Bristol Motor Speedway.
“Our mission as a health care system is to provide everyone in our region cost-effective, convenient access to medical care, and Wellmont One is a key component of that mission,” said Dr. Richard Salluzzo, president and chief executive officer of Wellmont. “We believe everyone should have access to the best in health care — and everyone should have access to it quickly when they need it.”