Have you ever been stopped in highway traffic while a medical helicopter lands to transport victims of a Maryland car crash to the hospital? It’s a heart-stopping sight, and we can only hope that the helicopter gets the victims to the hospital in time. Now Maryland lawmakers are reevaluating the state’s emergency medical services since a crash involving a state helicopter claimed four lives last fall.
The Maryland State Police medical helicopter program has been under scrutiny since a Sept. 27, 2008 crash killed four people in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The helicopter was on its way to a hospital 25 miles away when it was diverted to Andrews Air Force Base in foul weather and crashed — killing the pilot, a paramedic, a medical technician, and one of the car accident victims. An 18-year-old injured in the Charles County Maryland traffic accident survived the helicopter crash. Legislation is now being proposed that would separate Maryland law enforcement from rescue functions.
The subject of medical helicopter accidents has received national attention lately, as such accidents have been on the rise since the 1990s due in part to the closing of emergency rooms in rural areas and an aging US population. National and state safety officials are reconsidering whether some patients would be safer and just as well served by using regular ground ambulance transports. Triaging methods used by emergency responders are also being questioned.
Members of the National Emergency Medical Services Pilots Association attended a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing in Washington, DC, earlier this month, to discuss ways to prevent such tragic accidents. The NTSB reported 28 deaths in seven fatal medical helicopter accidents last year — up from seven deaths in two crashes in 2007. Wrongful death lawsuits can follow such accidents, e.g., if the air medical transport companies are found to be negligent in the maintenance and repair of their aircraft.
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