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40 Years of Outstanding Service for LVHN–MedEvac

After more than 76,000 missions transporting patients through the air and on the ground, the dedicated team at LVHN–MedEvac looks forward to the next 40 years.

medevac 40 years

Tim Hickey has spent the last 34 years flying in helicopters to accident scenes and health care locations helping seriously injured or ill patients get to a Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) hospital quickly.

And he’s enjoyed every minute of it.

“I’d recommend the job to anyone,” says the 62-year-old flight nurse, who joins more than 100 fellow team members in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the founding of LVHN–MedEvac, which provides air and ground critical care transportation for patients throughout northeast Pennsylvania. LVHN–MedEvac has flown more than 60,000 missions since its first flight in spring 1981.

The service now includes more than 16,000 transports of patients since an independent ground ambulance service was launched in 2013. The ground service is the first of its kind in the region in offering the same critical care transport capabilities as the air service.

LVHN–MedEvac takes flight

Hickey, who coupled his MedEvac service with 26 years as a flight nurse in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, was initially a paramedic for ground ambulances in the Bucks County area in the early 1980s. When he heard about MedEvac, the first air ambulance service in northeast Pennsylvania and the second in the entire state, he knew that kind of work was for him.

“I completed my nursing degree and joined in 1987,” Hickey says. “Back then, we had two helicopters with four pilots, four critical care nurses and four paramedics on the team. We worked 12-hour shifts exclusively and worked in tandem with another health network. We’ve come a long way since then.”

Today, LVHN–MedEvac in an independent entity with 65 critical care team members, 16 pilots and eight mechanics working 24/7 to respond to every need asked of them. There also are numerous dispatchers and support staff members serving a fleet of four helicopters – an American Eurocopter H130 stationed in Kutztown; two American Eurocopter EC135s stationed in East Stroudsburg and Pottsville; and an EC145 in Hazleton – as well as two critical care ground transport units.

“It’s really incredible how our service has evolved over 40 years,” says Bryan Evans, Director, MedEvac/Critical Care Transport at LVHN. “Our team now has much more training in clinical care capabilities. Both our air and ground transport teams have CAMTS (Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems) accreditation, meaning we comply with industry standards prioritizing patient care and safety in the transport environment. We have the only teams in the Lehigh Valley to hold that accreditation.”

But the real key has been teamwork.

“Since our inception, the success of our mission has been about partnerships,” Evans says. “I’m talking beyond our LVHN hospital partners – the 911 dispatchers, pre-hospital providers, firefighters, law enforcement. Our community owes every one of them a debt of gratitude.”

Evolution of flight medicine

Keith Micucci, MSN, Administrator, Emergency Medical Services, spent 10 years as MedEvac director and is going on 20 years since he joined the flight crew. He’s seen dramatic changes over the years.

“The demand on critical care is vastly different today as health care has evolved,” Micucci says. “When I first started, we did a lot more trauma and pre-hospital admission transport. Now we see a lot of heart attack patients, stroke patients, ICU patients, really all types of critical care. The demands on providers and transporters, whether paramedic or nurse, is much different. Our people need to have a solid familiarity with a variety of specialties.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of the great people I work with every day, the way they’ve adapted and overcome during this pandemic,”

Memorable moments of care

“One flight I remember vividly from some years ago involved a tractor trailer driver trapped in the cab of his truck for several hours,” says Joe Rycek, who has been chief flight nurse for LVHN–MedEvac for 22 of his 26 years with the team. “On this day, the weather had closed in while we extricated him, and when we lifted off from the scene, we were suddenly in heavy clouds. This man was critically injured, and we were expecting to need to be directed to an airport landing and then transferring to a ground ambulance – not a good situation. As we were flying north of South Mountain, miraculously there was an opening in the clouds. This divine intervention allowed us to land at the trauma center. The patient was saved.”

Such unforeseen challenges are also common. None have been more difficult than navigating the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the great people I work with every day, the way they’ve adapted and overcome during this pandemic,” Evans says. “We’ve lost two cherished colleagues to COVID. Like everyone in health care, we faced numerous unknowns and dealt with ever-changing information. Our team was always there when LVHN and our patients needed us.”

Micucci echoed those sentiments.

“COVID has rocked health care like I’ve never seen before,” Micucci says. “We’ve been on the front lines figuring out how to safely move the most critical patients, often in confined spaces, inches from a patient’s face. Our team took every recommended safety measure and just came to work to do our jobs. It’s been amazing to witness.”

During his long tenure, Hickey has seen a major shift in patient transport.

“When I started, the cases we responded to were about 70 percent vehicle accidents and 30 percent health care facility transports,” Hickey says. “But after years of education about seat belt safety, driving while intoxicated, and general driving safety, it’s gone completely the other way.”

But one thing has remained constant.

“That would be the grateful faces of the patients and family members, or the caregivers at a small facility that doesn’t have the means to provide a patient enough care,” Hickey says. “That’s what keeps someone like me around for 34 years.”

For more information

Follow LVHN MedEvac on Facebook (@LVHN Medevac) and Instagram (lvhn_medevac_official).

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