MATTOON — The Air Evac Lifeteam has opened a base at the Coles County Memorial Airport to enhance helicopter response time to nearby Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center and the surrounding area.
Air Evac Base 145 at the airport’s fire station building was put into service at 8 a.m. May 15, said program Director Larry Thies during an interview Friday morning.
“We have been flying every day since then and staying busy,” Thies said of the new base.
Thies said Air Evac had already been serving Sarah Bush Lincoln and the surrounding area through the Base 28 that it opened 17 years ago in Watson in Effingham County. He said Air Evac saw a need to operate a base in Coles County to meet the growing demand for its medical airlift services in the area, so it presented this idea to Sarah Bush Lincoln and received positive feedback.
Having a Coles County base will reduce Air Evac’s response time to Sarah Bush Lincoln by 15 minutes and enhance its response time to car crash scenes and other medical emergencies in the area, Thies said. He added that Air Evac takes patients to the level one trauma center at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, as well as to specialized centers for pediatric, burn, cardiac, and stroke care.
Thies, who also serves as the program director for the Effingham County base and Air Evac’s new base in Olney, said each shift at the Coles County base is staffed by an emergency medical services pilot, flight nurse, and flight paramedic. He said this crew uses a Bell 206L4 helicopter. He said each base also has a helicopter mechanic on call 24 hours a day.
The Coles County base is currently staffed 7 a.m.-7 p.m. every day and the Effingham County base continues to provide coverage overnight, Thies said. Air Evac plans to start operating the Coles County base 24 hours a day in a few months after more pilots are hired, Thies said. He noted that there is a shortage of helicopter pilots to fill available positions throughout the United States.
Thies said Air Evac has 146 locations in 16 states and is a division of O’Fallon-based Air Medical Group Holdings, which has locations in 48 states. He said clients who purchase Air Evac annual membership for their households have their flights paid for if they need to utilize Air Medical Group Holdings’ medical airlift services in any of those 48 states.