AeroMD, based in the US Virgin Islands, was founded to improve emergency access to medical care for the local populace, and is now becoming a force to be reckoned with on the international air ambulance scene
AeroMD was founded in November 2014 on the Island of St Thomas, one of the US Virgin Islands. Some of the founding group had personally experienced loss of life due to the extended time required for off-island air ambulances to arrive in the Caribbean, according to Allan Adler, Vice-President of Business Development for the company. They wanted to make sure other people didn’t have to go through the same experience. He explained: “With small islands scattered throughout the region, the founders of AeroMD had a mission to offer a superior transport option to residents and visitors facing medical emergencies. Many medical cases are simply outside the technological capacity of the infrastructure in the Caribbean, so having a medical exit strategy is paramount.”
Dr Brendan Anzalone, President and Chief Medical Officer of AeroMD, added: “AeroMD was about a vision of deploying a far forward, fixed wing, critical care capability. It had to be close to those in need – in the most remote areas of the Caribbean.”
In the beginning, AeroMD utilised two leased aircraft: a Learjet 35 and a King Air 200, and while its aircraft weren’t owned, the team considered it of the utmost importance to employ a full-time medical staff who were on-island and available around the clock. Meanwhile, trust had to be built with medical providers on the islands. “The initial challenge for the AeroMD team was to form relationships and build rapport within the Caribbean medical community,” said Dr Anzalone. “Without having a local option for air ambulance previously, there was a lack of awareness that medical evacuations could be completed on the same day. There were also cultural differences and language barriers on a multitude of international islands across the region.”
AeroMD now employs 40 people, inclusive of strategic aviation support, a communications team and contractors. Through a strategic partnership with Bohlke International Airways on St. Croix, the air ambulance firm currently operates up to three aircraft, one of which allows it to transport two patients simultaneously. The primary air ambulance platform is a Citation Bravo, along with a Citation II and a Gulfstream G100 with dual patient configuration.
Generally, the AeroMD team finds itself flying every day, steadily meeting air ambulance demands in the region. “While our foci of air ambulance operations are in the Caribbean and the Americas, worldwide operations are possible through our international provider partners,” said Adler.
All types of critical care/emergent cases can be transported by AeroMD, from pediatric to geriatric patients. The medical team is extensively trained to handle any case, but the most frequent patients are ones experiencing cardiac or neurological issues.
Dr Anzalone said: “Prior to the existence of AeroMD in the Caribbean, a patient would have numerous care teams: local hospital; outbound ground ambulance; air ambulance; inbound ground ambulance; and admitting hospital. The air ambulance team members would come from off-island and often had never worked together. With AeroMD, our local care teams meet patients at the hospital where they are initially assessed. That team remains by the patient’s side until they have briefed the team at the destination medical facility. Our teams work and train together every day, enabling them to provide streamlined and consistent patient care at the highest level.”
AeroMD requires its medical employees to have three years of critical care experience at a major institution. Ideal team candidates come from a mix of pre-hospital/in hospital medicine with prior air medical transport experience. According to Dr Anzalone, many medical team members also work at a hospital, most in the emergency room or intensive care unit, while several also instruct medical certification courses. Furthermore, team members undergo on-island training sessions and attend an annual training camp on the US mainland, with a focus on scenario-based simulation and critical procedure training. So currency and best practice are always at the forefront for the AeroMD team.
AeroMD has endured a tempestuous time over the last 18 months, facing the wrath of not one, but two Caribbean hurricanes.
The majority of the damage from Hurricane Irma in September 2017 was focused on St Thomas and St John. AeroMD’s operational base on St Croix was unscathed, so the company was able to conduct operations from this location for the surrounding area. The membership office on St Thomas was also undamaged by Hurricane Irma, so the team was able to utilise that space and, furthermore, donate it to the American Red Cross for their relief operations during the immediate aftermath of the storm.
The St Croix base that AeroMD shared with Bohlke International Airways, though, was 100-percent destroyed by Hurricane Maria. When the team returned from its evacuation location, there was no power, standard communications were disrupted, and even preparing food was a challenge.
The leadership of AeroMD and Bohlke has extensive military experience deploying to austere combat and disaster zones, Adler told AirMed&Rescue, and much of that experience was used in navigating the many pitfalls presented by such a large storm. “A new operational base was secured and communications were achieved via a robust satellite communications capability AeroMD invested in pre-storm,” he added.
“Some of those first flights after the hurricanes required us to work with only the limited resources available after a major natural disaster,” said Dr Anzalone. “Our AeroMD team members showed exceptional resilience and commitment to the Caribbean community, working for many weeks from what appeared like a war zone post-storm. Since the hurricanes, we have developed an extensive operational base on St Croix, adjacent to the complex which houses members of our medical team.”
All types of critical care/emergent cases can be transported
As the only Virgin Islands-based air ambulance operator, AeroMD team members were first responders to those injured or ill during the hurricanes. Both hospitals in St Thomas and St Croix underwent major damage, so many patients had to be evacuated. There was an unprecedented need for patient movement post-storm, and federal response joined the relief effort with dozens of air ambulances answering the call for help. “It was an honour to work alongside our colleagues in the air ambulance community during this response,” commented Dr Anzalone. “The AeroMD family is grateful to those who answered that call when our home was devastated by hurricanes. We were pleased to spearhead the US Virgin Islands medical relief effort with local knowledge, experience and infrastructure support.” As the USVI stabilised, AeroMD’s team expanded its efforts into the greater Caribbean to assist those on numerous other affected islands.
A new start
As AeroMD grows steadily, it is building a base of members in the Caribbean community and beyond. Upcoming plans include opening satellite offices, international business development and expansion into remote medicine. Plans for expansion include the employment of William (Alex) Franklin, who recently joined the AeroMD family as flight programme director.