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