More rural COVID-19 patients being medevacked to San Antonio-area hospitals

AirLIFE reports 25% increase in transfers

Medevac crews are staying busy transferring COVID-19 patients from rural hospitals to San Antonio-area hospitals.

San Antonio – Medevac crews are staying busy transferring COVID-19 patients from rural hospitals to San Antonio-area hospitals.

AirLIFE crews reports 72 transfers of known or suspected COVID-19 patients since March to San Antonio, Kerrville, Pleasanton and Uvalde bases.

Company officials said the increase in transfers is probably about 25% higher than what they usually handle this time of the year.

Joel Ramirez, a 12-year veteran flight paramedic, said daily transfers used to involve stroke, heart attack patients or people injured in vehicle wrecks. But that has changed since March.

“I’d say probably about a third of our calls now are COVID-19 patients,” Ramirez said.

And the level of care those patients need has also changed.

“We typically see the sickest of the patients,” Ramirez said.

Trey Howard, operations manager for San Antonio AirLIFE, said the higher number of transfers recently have involved the Uvalde base.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they are closer to the border. And we see right now that the border cities are a bit of a hot spot for us in the area,” Howard said.

Protocol has changed for the crews. Aside from the routine PPE, crews are required to wear goggles, a tyvek suit, and there’s an intense decontamination of the aircraft. They are extra steps and gear that really put a stress on the team, but it has proven effective.

“It is incredible the amount of heat that they go through and the fatigue that they deal with,” Howard said. “While they’re with a patient bedside, outside while they’re loading the aircraft in the aircraft and then again at the receiving facility and transporting into the building, so it can get extremely fatiguing.”

Howard said the strict protocols have worked. None of the flight crews directly working with positive COVID-19 patients have contracted the virus.

A team at each of the four bases is made up of a pilot, medic, nurse and mechanic, but he said overall there’s more than a dozen people that help support each patient transfer.

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.