Doctor Makes Appeal for Emergency Medical Stabilization Unit on Tybee Island

July 7, 2010 by  
Filed under City Updates and News, News, Regional News


By Dr. Jerry Williams

As Tybee Island continues to enjoy an increasing number of visitors, the traffic issues on Highway 80 only continue to grow and with that growth, the task of promptly transporting injured or critically ill patients off of the island becomes more of a problem.  Never was this more evident than this Memorial Day weekend when a critically injured patient could not be transported by ground to Memorial University Medical Center due to the heavy traffic on Highway 80.

Tragically, the patient died before the helicopter arrived.

Many perhaps do not realize that the helicopter air ambulance, LifeStar, is no longer based at Memorial’s main campus just off Waters Avenue and the Truman Parkway, but is now based at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport since the operation and ownership of the helicopter was taken over by OmniFlight.  The average response time is 18-20 minutes with a flight time of approximately 13 minutes plus a 5-7 minute lift off from time of dispatch.  This change in location adds approximately 5 minutes to an average response to Tybee Island compared to the previous location at Memorial University Medical Center.

In 2009, LifeFlight was called to Tybee Island 12 times, but was only able to come 4 times.  There are many very legitimate reasons why only 1/3  of the calls resulted in the helicopter arriving at Tybee.  Weather, mechanical issues and other emergency calls can all prevent the helicopter from being able to respond to a particular call and location. While Tybee is quite well-prepared for a hurricane emergency, we lack vital options for basic emergency care in the case of a critical illness or traumatic injury when transportation off the island is hindered by road or by air.  Multiple injured patients, such as could occur in an accident during a heavily visited time, such as July fourth weekend, could easily overwhelm the ambulance or ambulances on Tybee.

Then what?

An Emergency Stabilization Unit that would be equipped with all necessary medical equipment and supplies to care for 3 basic patient scenarios is desperately needed on Tybee.  Sudden cardiac events, such as heart attacks, near-drownings and traumatic injuries should be able to be managed using nationally recognized standard medical protocols where the patient or patients can be maintained and hopefully stabilized while transportation issues can be resolved. Using space already available on Tybee at the old school building at Memorial Park and with a commitment from Memorial University Medical Center to provide decommissioned medical equipment at zero cost, the Unit could be up and running quickly.

The center of Memorial Park is already a designated helicopter landing zone.  The presence of the fire department adds critical resources and manpower to this location.  With around the clock coverage already ably provided by MedStar with a Paramedic and EMT, coupled with first-responders and doctors and nurses that call Tybee home, an Emergency Stabilization Unit could save lives and improve outcomes of critically ill or injured patients.

The time is NOW to address this need.  Basic emergency medical care will only improve our standard of living for full and part-time Tybee residents, while improving our standing as a world-class vacation destination.  Making “The Healthiest Beach in America” a safer place to visit is critically important to our guests as well.

Jerry Williams, MD

The Beach Doc

Tybee Island, GA

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4 Responses to “Doctor Makes Appeal for Emergency Medical Stabilization Unit on Tybee Island”
  1. James Miller says:

    Dr. Williams,
    I can certainly understand your situation. I worked on a barrier island in Florida and we regretably had similar incidents. It almost sounds like there needs to be a “urgent care” facility on the island. I have visited Tybee in the off months before and there is still plenty of traffic out there. It’s a shame that the helicopter ambulance has to be stationed so far away and, that there is no “stabilization unit” available on the island. I am currently a new graduate nurse and a certified critical care paramedic. If you could get the county or the state to see the plight of the people of Tybee and would need help in a professional manor I would gladly come to the Tybee area and call it home. Any help I could possibly offer is at your disposal. Jim Miller

  2. Editor says:

    Thank you for your comments!

  3. Laura says:

    Tybee Island, one disappointed tourist’s view point.
    I have never commented before on places I’ve been or campgrounds I’ve stayed at, however this was probably the worst I’ve experienced in the 5 years we have been travelling.
    We are Snowbirds from Canada and normally winter in Arizona . For a change this year we toured the eastern US. Seaboard as we love being by the ocean when we get a chance we were excited to get a site for a week at the Rivers End RV Park at Tybee Island Georgia over the Thanksgiving holiday, figuring we would enjoy the beach and tour Savannah.
    My first bit of advice is to NOT follow your GPS through Savannah on I-80 although it is a Truck Route. Many of the limbs on the old Oak Trees have been allowed to grow to low making a canopy over the road, pretty to look at but,, they will scrape the top of your RV, Satellite Dish, and Roof Air. There should be Height Restrictions posted for this area. Your best route is Harry Truman Parkway although you will still have a few low trees to stress through getting to and from the RV Park, just not as many and this is the only other way to go.
    The Rivers End Campground was tight with lots of trees and did not have pull thru’s that could accommodate our 40ft coach and enclosed car hauler, our trailer had to be unhooked and left in a undeveloped City Storage Lot and care had to be taken not to get stuck in the soft sandy ground.
    We felt as though we were somewhat deceived when we booked our site as we specifically asked about Wi-Fi and were told it was available, however it was down the entire time we were there and I was informed it had been out for some time prior our arrival. When we inquired about it not working we were told ” to just keep on trying” even though they knew it was not working.

    Our allotted site 139 was very tight but not unreasonable, as we were expecting to be spending our time walking the beach or taking in other attractions, however the low lying trees made it impossible to use a satellite dish, however they did provide good cable TV access.
    We were also rather disgusted with the strong smell of cat feces’ and urine throughout the park, although it is a Tybee Island problem and not unique to the park as Tybee has Feral Cats absolutely everywhere, and the park could do a better job of discouraging the cats and cleaning up after them…. Tybee obviously has many kind hearted people feeding the cats but no one is picking up after them either. We observed a great deal of garbage along the boardwalks and other accesses to the beach in addition to many of the disposable plates used to feed the cats.
    We were also very dismayed to discover that the City Officials in all their wisdom allowed the feral cats to run everywhere but imposed” Very Stiff Penalties” for walking with your dog on the beach. Dogs are not allowed anywhere on any beaches on Tybee Island, we noted postings on the beach indicating it was a Bird Sanctuary and thus the reason dogs were banned. This writer would like to point out that cats stalk and kill birds Not Dogs, Duh!! seems to be a bit of confusion here It is apparent the governing powers are much more taken with the” out of control” cat population than they are towards dogs and their responsible dog loving owners.
    We also notice that our closest access to the beach involved walking pass the local Sewage Treatment Facility, for those with a weak stomach you might want to take the longer route, as on the days when this is really bad you can almost taste it when you inhale.
    In closing the beaches are beautiful although many warning signs indicate Dangerous Rip Tides and careful not to step on the jelly fish when the tides go out.
    The campground is adequate should they ever get the Wi-Fi running, and mean it when they advertise that it is available. And don’t expect a Big ole’ Southern Welcoming. What we experienced here was far from it, with the exception of Rick the gentleman that parked us.
    Also take note in the Welcome pamphlet printed in Bright RED Capital Letters
    Until such time as Tybee Island takes firmer measures with their out of control cat situation and officials soften their stance towards dog owners I would not return, nor would I recommend this place to anyone.
    We would urge the governing powers to see how other jurisdictions accommodate dog owners as well as non-dog owners with designated use areas and or strict leash laws on beaches during off peak season. All beaches I have been to ppeople have been allowed to bring their dogs. During the peak season, they are allowed early in the morning and late in the afternoon or designated areas. In the off-season, rules are more relaxed, allowing dogs at any time.
    Concerns were made that Dog Feces carries disease,
    Exposure to any living creature including each other carries the risk of contracting an illness. Any argument that indicates the spread of disease from a dog is inaccurate irresponsible and without solid medical support. Many people in fact sleep with their animals and reported illnesses virtually nonexistent. It is irresponsible of any government official to make damming statements that are unsubstantiated by fact. Should I have a running nose or cough should I be banned from the beach in fear of spreading disease ??
    Here is something to consider from Cats.
    Description: Commonly known as Cat Scratch Disease, bartonellosis is a bacteria carried by fleas that infest cats. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue, and a poor appetite. This bacterial infection is particularly dangerous to immune-suppressed people such as those undergoing treatment for cancer; those with HIV; or organ transplant recipients.

    How It’s Passed: Most people get CSD through cat bites and scratches.

    How To Avoid: The CDC suggest washing cat bites and scratches immediately and controlling fleas.

    Description: Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite in cats. Most people who get this do not get very sick (just suffer from some flu-like symptoms), but women who are pregnant (or are thinking of becoming pregnant) need to be careful, as this can affect the fetus.

    How It’s Passed: The parasite, called Toxoplasma, is not directly passed from the cat to a human, but through cat feces.

    Not to mention Rabies…
    I travel with a Standard Poodle and consider myself a very responsible pet owner. In all my travels I have never seen a place so unfriendly to dogs
    The Snowbird Family, including 1dog and 1cat.
    Alberta Canada.

  4. Editor says:

    Laura: We’re so sorry that your experience with River’s End Campground and Tybee’s general accommodations was so unsatisfactory. Your thoughtful comments are very much appreciated.

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