Haiti Air Ambulance is partnering with Air Methods to bring helicopter EMS service to the poverty-stricken nation on a full-time basis for the first time. Beginning next month, two Air Methods Bell 407s–a primary and a dedicated back-up–will be based at a secure industrial park near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and will be gearing up to fly two missions a day or about 700 hours per year.
Air Methods will assign three pilots and two mechanics, who will rotate in and out of the country. Haiti Air Ambulance (HAA), a New York not-for-profit corporation, is supplying the based medical crews and underwriting all related expenses–estimated at just under $8 million over the first two years–for the entire operation through private donations. Sustained funding is envisioned through anticipated contract work with the United Nations and various private charities and through reimbursement from private insurance. While the Haitian government is cooperating with HAA, it is not providing funding at this time. The medical staff will consist of a medical director, flight nurses and flight paramedics who will be accredited under industry guidelines established by the Commission on Accreditation of Air Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS). When not flying, the medical staff will train Haitian EMS responders.
The helicopters will be equipped with satellite flight tracking, HF radios, and patient monitoring communications as well as a full medical suite including onboard oxygen supply, ventilator, defibrillator and intubation kit. HAA is establishing an EMS communications center, a volunteer network of weather reporters complemented by automated weather stations and online weather cameras and helipads and secured landing zones near or at rural hospitals and clinics throughout the country. This will include soccer fields and open land adjacent to police stations. It is also looking into pre-positioning jet-A fuel at strategic locations as it is currently available only at Port-au-Prince.
The need for helicopter EMS is particularly acute in Haiti due to the lack of surface roads and rural medical care and high rates of poverty and disease. The size of Maryland, Haiti has only 2,500 miles of what could be called roads and a mere 22 percent of them are paved.
Today, 80 percent of Haitians live in poverty and 40 percent are unemployed. Less than half the population has access to clean drinking water, and the average life expectancy is only 54 years. Most people don’t get basic immunizations, and both the infant mortality and HIV/AIDS infection rates are the highest outside Africa. Because of the poor road conditions and the shortage of ground ambulances, the acutely ill must be transported, often via truck, to Port-au-Prince, a journey that easily can take several days through mountainous terrain, even though the distance is often less than 150 miles.
If there were ever a location ripe for based air-ambulance service, Haiti is it. That’s what flight paramedic Jordan Owen thought back in 2010, when he and thousands of other Americans journeyed to Haiti to help in the wake of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed 250,000, displaced 3 million and has left 400,000 Haitians still living in homeless camps today. Owen took his idea to industry veterans, and a talented team came together to found HAA. Members include established medical charity Medishare, several senior physicians, private philanthropists and a variety of aviation professionals with decades of experience in the helicopter industry and in Haiti. It’s been a long journey, Owen told AIN. “Haitians deserve equal care and quality of care in their country,” Owen said. “We are going to set a standard similar to that in the U.S. This is going to be a high-profile program.”