Flight Time for Medevac Helicopter Slashed in St. Mary's

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Nov. 6, 2008)—Local public safety officials are worried that response times for air evacuation of critical patients could increase substantially after the operating hours for Trooper 7, the Maryland State Police helicopter that flies out severely injured patients based at St. Mary’s County Regional Airport have been cut in half.

According to Thomas Mattingly, Jr., communications manager for the county’s Department of Public Safety, local 24-hour air evacuation coverage has come to an end.

“The biggest issue we’ll experience is possible delays in response time,” Mattingly told The County Times Monday in a phone interview. “It’s not 24/7 coverage anymore. I don’t know why the change was made.”

Mattingly said that with Trooper 7 on station, emergency responders could expect to get an evacuation for a severely injured person within 10 minutes.

The change in hours could mean response times might increase to as much as 20 minutes to almost half-an-hour for an air evacuation, Mattingly said, if Trooper 7 is not operational.

“Now we could be waiting for something out of Andrews [Air Force Base], Med Star or U.S. Park Police,” Mattingly said.

Those airfields are in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and the District respectively.

Lt. Mike Thompson, commander of the Leonardtown barrack for the Maryland State Police declined to comment on the recent change.

Calls to the Pikesville headquarters were unsuccessful in gaining information on the change. Media representatives from the headquarters were unavailable because, reportedly, they were out on a “state holiday” for election.

Mattingly told The County Times that he and others in his department had learned of the change in operating hours, which is now from noon to midnight, about 10 days ago but only informally.

“We got it by word of mouth,” Mattingly said.

The County Times was made aware of the change via a citizen tip early in the week.

The cutting of Trooper 7 flight time comes weeks after a tragic crash of another state police helicopter, Trooper 2, while they were evacuating two trauma patients. Two state troopers and an emergency medical technician as well as one patient died in the crash.

It is unknown if the Trooper 7 rescheduling has any connection to the Trooper 2 crash in Prince George’s County in late September.

The entire fleet of 11 remaining helicopters was grounded by state officials in the aftermath of the crash to rule out systemic mechanical problems, but they were later placed back in service.

The Maryland Board of Public Works recently approved $300 million in budget cuts from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration, including a hiring freeze on Maryland State Police positions to the tune of $4.5 million in savings.

No reductions for the aviation units were expressly listed in the budget cuts summary from the state.

The cuts for Maryland State Police also included eliminating 25 vacant positions.

Del. John Wood (Dist. 29A) expressed surprise and agitation at the change in flight operations for Trooper 7. He vowed to learn more about why the decision was made.

“Not a word has been said about reducing the hours of the medevac,” Wood told The County Times. “This is the first I’ve heard anything about it. That’s a bunch of B.S., that’s the only thing we’ve got at this end of the state.”

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