Happy Landings!

Published 6:45 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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AHOSKIE – What’s round, made of concrete, and can possibly save lives?

The newly opened helipad adjacent to ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.

That project, years in the planning stages and touted as a quicker way to have critically ill or injured patients airlifted to a facility offering a higher level of medical care, is completed and the helipad is open.

On Monday, ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to formally open the long awaited helipad, which was constructed at was once a physicians’ parking lot off West Memorial Drive. The Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce was also involved in the ceremony.

Brian Harvill, Interim President of ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, called the opening of the helipad as a milestone for the hospital and the community

He offered thanks to: local elected officials as well as community members who serve on the hospital’s Directors Council Board.

“They (Directors Council) are visionaries who have the best interest at heart of the community and the hospital, guiding every decision that we make,” Harvill said.

Trey Labrecque (left), Director of EastCare, joins with Brian Harvill, Interim President of ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, to listen to the comments made at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Harvill noted that Monday’s ribbon cutting ceremony should take about 30 minutes.

“That happens to be about the same length of time it took to go through the process of flying someone out when the landing pad was at the high school,” he stated. “Let’s reflect on the countless number of patients who will now receive quicker care because of all the efforts that places us here today. We are truly blessed.”

Trey Labrecque, Director of EastCare, recalled the stage of his career where he was a flight paramedic. After completing all of the required certifications, his first medical transport (by air) came at Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.

“I was a little confused at first because we were landing at a high school rather than adjacent to the hospital,” Labrecque reminisced. “I thought we were landing at the high school because of a disaster there. I quickly learned that was where the landing zone was for Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.”

He noted the additional resources needed by EastCare to transport a patient from the high school landing zone.

“The EMS agency had to send an ambulance to meet us and take us to the hospital,” Labrecque noted. “And we also requested a unit from the Ahoskie Fire Department to be there when we landed and departed in order to secure the scene. That’s nights, weekends, holidays….getting people out of bed to go meet us.

“And, as Brian said, that only lengthened the time it took to airlift a patient out of this hospital,” Labrecque added.

He offered a personal thank-you to the Ahoskie Fire Department and Hertford County EMS for all their help over the years in transitioning the patients from the hospital to the high school landing zone.

Ahoskie Mayor Weyland White said he was pleased to see the helipad finally opened.

“It’s been a long time coming,” White remarked. “We are extremely fortunate to have this in our community. It will be quicker to transport a patient out. We are looking forwarded to a continued partnership between the Town of Ahoskie and ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital. Thank you for delivering excellent quality healthcare to all of our community.”

One person who perhaps totally understands the importance of prompt medical attention is Earl Phillips, Administrator of Operations for ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.

“The opening of this helipad has a special place in my heart because it will provide more efficient transfer of care,” Phillips said, adding that he once needed that high level of care upon suffering a stroke.

“Time is of the essence for treating a stroke,” Phillips stressed. “With each passing minute that a stroke victim goes untreated, the nervous tissue in the brain is quickly and permanently damaged.

“ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital is certified as Primary Stroke Ready by the American Heart Association,” he continued. “This means we have highly trained medical professionals ready to treat stroke patients with timely, evidence-based care prior to transferring them to a comprehensive stroke center, such as our own ECU Health Medical Center in Greenville.”

Phillips stated that the addition of the helipad has equipped RCH and EastCare with the means necessary to transport critical care patients faster and more efficiently.

“I feel very blessed to be standing here today and I’m proud of the addition of this helipad which will certainly foster faster access to care and improving health outcomes for our community,” Phillips closed, adding a “shout out” to Paul Cherry, RCH Director of Facilities, for all he and his staff did to make the helipad project a reality.

While the helipad is located on RCH property, there is a street (the western end of Memorial Drive) between it and the actual hospital building. To promote safety at that location, gates are lowered on that street when helicopter is landing or taking off as well as when a patient is being rolled on a gurney across the street.

Having the helipad on the hospital’s property has been talked about on numerous occasions. That discussion between Ahoskie officials and hospital administration took a more serious approach in early 2021. Careful attention was placed to creating a helipad that could co-exist within a residential area. A Helipad Protection Zone was created around the 40-by-40 foot landing pad.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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