Vanderbilt LifeFlight sends helicopter, nurse team to help with disaster relief, response

Vanderbilt LifeFlight has dispatched its reserve helicopter and a medical team to Hattiesburg, Miss., to assist in disaster relief efforts after a call for assistance was made to Tennessee EMS officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A team of seven people is operating the LifeFlight helicopter from Forrest General Hospital, providing relief for the Mississippi Rescue 7 helicopter team normally stationed there. Flight nurses Neil Worf, Marcie Johnson, Jason Hufflan and Chris Rediker, along with pilots Mike Cobb, Dave Jackson and mechanic Bill Bennett, are staffing the Vanderbilt helicopter.

The team arrived in Hattiesburg late Monday and began responding to calls on Tuesday. Call volume in the area has jumped from an average of one to two flights per 12-hour shift to more than eight flights per 12-hour shift. Most of the flights are interhospital transfers of critically ill patients.

“Scene flights are still very dangerous because of the water and the amount of loose debris,” explained Jeanne Yeatman, M.S.N., R.N., LifeFlight program director.

Yeatman said the LifeFlight crews were honored to be asked to provide assistance.

“We want to do whatever we can to assist in this tragedy,” she said.

Because the helicopter sent was a reserve helicopter, all four LifeFlight Middle Tennessee bases in Tullahoma, Lebanon, Clarksville and Mount Pleasant remain staffed and ready to respond to local emergencies.

LifeFlight has also made several fixed wing flights into the disaster area, including one to fly a kidney transplant patient back to Vanderbilt from Gulfport, Miss.

“The airport looks like a war zone,” said LifeFlight nurse Kevin Grossman, R.N., EMT-P. “There is nothing available if you get stuck at the airport for any reason. Cell phone usage is still not available for the most part.”