Health company trains emergency medical team to fly in lower visibilities

Local - 1/31/2013 6:27 PM by Karen Franklin
BEAVER - A not-for-profit medical company said Thursday that it will now be able to treat more patients faster thanks to technology.

CEO of Health Net, Clinton Burley, told WOAY the company will be training its helicopter crew to fly in weather they previously couldn't.

Helicopter flights limited by cloud cover is no longer the case.

"There's no doubt that we're going to be able to access more patients and get them to higher levels of care in a more expeditious fashion," Burley said.

Rather than relying solely on sight, the pilot will now be using instruments to aid in low visibility the same way a commercial plane pilot flies without a line of sight. The switch from visual flight rules to instrument flight rules means the helicopter can assist in more emergency calls.

"These are flying intensive care units," Burley told WOAY. "We're bringing the expert medical crew and the skill of our sponsor hospitals out to rural communities. It makes a life-saving difference."

Helicopters, however, will still have their limitations.

"We're not going to purposely fly a Health Net helicopter into a thunderstorm, for example. But when it comes to low clouds, when it comes to visibility challenges, right now, those cause problems for us moving critically ill or injured persons," the CEO said.

Health Net has one other helicopter, with the same capabilities, at another base that covers northern West Virginia. The helicopters can travel as fast as 140 mph.

Training for the crews will begin in the spring. The company plans to use the technology in May.


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