Island Hopping To Help Save Lives

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - February 13, 2008
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Sandra Apter
Sandra Apter (right) with Capt. Kaipo Almeida and flight paramedics Tim Hess and Eric Kitagawa with one of three planes

When someone falls seriously ill or is injured on a Neighbor Island and needs to see a doctor on Oahu, AirMed Hawaii is there. Each flight includes four staffers: pilot, co-pilot, paramedic and a nurse. And they encourage patients to have a loved one of the patient on the plane while they’re being transported to a hospital.

“We want a family member to ride on the plane with the patient,” says Sandra Apter, vice president and general manager of AirMed Hawaii. “The patient is fearful, and when you’re going to a strange place it is comforting to have someone you know with you.”

With three planes and 70 Hawaii-based employees - mechanics, pilots, co-pilots, nurses and paramedics - AirMed Hawaii transports patients of any age for medical treatment. Physicians and hospitals contact AirMed Hawaii directly.

To help make the transition from one hospital to another easier, a rapid response team on the Neighbor Islands completes the paperwork and gets the patient from the hospital to the aircraft.

“You know you are making a difference, and it’s very rewarding,” Apter says.

In addition to transporting patients, the company also helps conduct training at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine. David Yew, AirMed medical director, gives quarterly training sessions for the staff and other professionals using a lifelike ,state-of-the-art mannequin.

Apter previously worked with a physician as the clinic manager at Airport Medical in 1970, which also operated its own ground ambulance squad. Apter worked with Hawaii Air Ambulance when it started up in 1980 with seven employees and seven flights a month. She left Hawaii Air Ambulance in 2003 with plans to enjoy retirement. Then her friend Jeff Tolbert, founder of the 26-year-old Alabama-based AirMed International, asked if she could help with scheduling. Apter says due to a compelling need for more medical travel services, AirMed Hawaii got the company up and running in three days in 2006. The firm is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Services.

“If you have the love for the work, you do it,” Apter says. “If you try to find a solution, it is much easier. We have an awesome staff of hard-working people. Whatever our staff needs to make them a success, we give them what they need.”

Apter notes that some of the challenges include new regulations from the FAA and exceeding standards. With her staff, she feels all obstacles are easily overcome.

“Some things are done by committee,” explains Apter. “The staff feels that they have ownership.”

Apter’s future goals for the company include new aircraft, a hangar and more certified medical personnel.

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