Caraway nurse part of Air Evac Lifeteam

Thursday, November 16, 2006
Tysha Starnes, part of the medical team with the Air Evac Lifeteam and her son, Wesley. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

Town Crier News Staff

Tysha Starnes of Caraway has been a part of the Air Evac Lifeteam for 14 months. Starnes has been a registered nurse for four and a half years. The nursing profession offers different opportunities and Starnes' desire, even before attending nursing school, was to work with an Evac team.

Starnes, the daughter of John and Kathy Starnes of Jonesboro (formerly of Caraway), is a 1997 graduate of Riverside High School. She attended nursing school at Arkansas State University. She started to EMT school at night and attended college during the day. She is the mother of Wesley Tompkins, a sixth grade student at Riverside East Elementary. She presently serves as a volunteer on the Caraway Ambulance Service and is a member of the Eastern District Craighead County Search and Rescue Team.

Air Evac Lifeteam is a membership-supported air ambulance company serving rural communities throughout the central U.S. It was founded in 1985 by a group of private citizens in the small town of West Plains, Mo. They wanted to provide better access to emergency medical care for people living in the rural areas. The company has grown and now has 64 bases in 11 states in the Air Evac Lifeteam system. Six bases are located in Oklahoma; 12 in Texas; nine in Missouri, seven in Arkansas, five in Illinois, three in Indiana, five in Kentucky, eight in Tennessee, two in Iowa, two in Mississippi and five in Alabama.

Starnes has worked at LeBonheur Children's Medical Center emergency room in Memphis and St. Bernard's ICU unit in Jonesboro. She still works part-time at St. Bernard's ICU Unit.

To work with the Air Evac Lifeteam, nurses must have at least three years experience in an emergency room or ICU unit.

The air ambulance helicopter and crews are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and can respond to the scenes of medical emergencies or make critical care inter-facility transfers.

The flight crews include a pilot, registered nurse and paramedic.

The Jonesboro area location is on Highway 18 outside Lake City. The team includes four pilots, three medics, three nurses, a mechanic and a membership person.

"We all work well together," Starnes said. "We fill in for each other when it is needed, and we are ready to go when a call comes in."

Working at the Jonesboro site are pilots Scott Haggenmacher of Lake City, Bill Shaw of Myrtle, Mo., Dave Hudson of Jonesboro and Tommy Grooms of Paragould. The three medics are Shawn Walker of Jonesboro, Tim Rigsbee of Jonesboro, and Bruce Ford of Marion. Along with Starnes, nurses on the team are James Brewington and Amy Griffin, both of Jonesboro. David Curtis of Lake City is the mechanic and Chris Mackey of Jonesboro is the membership coordinator.

The crew usually rotates after one or two full days on duty. They all know the routine and work well together, Starnes said.

"As with ground ambulance crews, we do a lot of rebound education," Starnes said. "We have to be ready for all emergencies. Usually when flying a patient, it is limb or life threatening. We probably do an average of 380 hours of education a year."

All medical crew members must be certified in basic life support, advanced cardiac life support, pediatric advanced life support, and pre-hospital trauma life support or basic trauma life support.

Putting patient care and safety first is the focus of Air Evac Lifeteam Clinic Care Services. Air Evac Lifeteam accomplishes this through employee and outreach education, quality assurance and quality improvement programs, continuous review of medical protocols by staff and medical directors, and by participating in clinical research and development projects.

"We meet with our medical director often and our charts are reviewed on a regular basis.

The Jonesboro team covers a 70 mile radius. They have to keep a close watch on the weather and adhere to all FAA guidelines.

The main dispatch center is in West Plaines. Using the GPS system, calls are directed to the closest base.

"Once we get the call if the weather is okay, we can be in the air in five minutes or less," Starnes said. "Most of the time the weather is okay in this area."

The company had over 200,000 take off and landings in the last 365 days with 40,000 flight hours.

"Our helicopter went to Louisiana to assist in the aftermath of Katrina," Starnes said. Brewington, one of the nurses at the Jonesboro site, worked in New Orleans. He said it was an experience.

"We had four helicopters in New Orleans and four in Biloxi, Miss.," Brewington said. "Due to the power outages we could only fly in the daytime."

Brewington said they flew patients from New Orleans to Lafayette with several aircrafts going to different locations trying to get the injured people to hospitals.

"We started with the most critical patients flying back and forth throughout the days," he said. "It took about an hour to fly them to Lafayette and we would make as many trips in a day as we could."

Air Evac Lifeteam crews work closely with ground ambulance services and other EMS agencies in their service areas. Their role is not to replace any emergency service already in place, but to work with them in distinct roles with the common goal to get patients the appropriate medical care.

They are quick to take part in community events, visit local schools, and be part of the communities they serve.

Starnes said she is happy to be a part of the Lifeteam -- something she had always wanted to do to help people.

"When and where we are needed, we will be there," Starnes said.

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