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04 June 2020
04. June 2020 Helicopters

“Our sole objective is to make a difference”

HALO Aviation provides vital services during COVID-19 pandemic

Some of HALO Aviation's daily missions include, landing on the scene of a motor vehicle crash, airlifting a critically injured patient, and transporting patients from rural clinics to higher level of care facilities.

Images: HALO Aviation

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outh Africa went into lockdown on 26 March, which effectively shut down the country with the exclusion of essential services. HALO Aviation, a HEMS operator based in South Africa, was the only operator in the country to have several aerial platforms configured to accommodate a complete patient isolation module. 

Providing vital medical services in South Africa

HALO Aviation is the only HEMS (helicopter emergency medical services) operator in South Africa that operates a doctor-based service, providing medical services to all South Africans through various government health departments with their six bases across the country and their fleet of four BK117s, a helicopter in the H145 family.

“Our daily missions comprise a mix of landing on the scene of a motor vehicle crash to airlift a critically injured patient, to transporting patients from rural clinics to higher level of care facilities,” explains Ryan Horsman, Chief Executive Officer of HALO Aviation. “The mission scope is extremely varied and covers the whole spectrum, from neonatal cases requiring incubators and ventilators to a full ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) transfer. It is easily possible that our practitioners are exposed to the highest level of trauma patients anywhere in the world.”

South Africa went into lockdown on 26 March, which effectively shut down the country with the exclusion of essential services. HALO Aviation, a HEMS operator based in South Africa, was the only operator in the country to have several aerial platforms configured to accommodate a complete patient isolation module.

Ensuring protection against COVID-19 during patient transfer

After more than 10 years of operations and over 5,000 EMS missions for the helicopter operator, the pandemic arrived in the country and changed daily life. But while many operators decided the risk was too high to transport possible COVID-19 patients onboard, HALO adapted their procedures, equipment and behaviour to ensure their teams’ protection while ensuring the same high quality of EMS service to the public.

First of all, HALO incorporated a ‘COVID-19 screening procedure and checklist’ used on every flight, that facilitated a detailed investigation should it raise a flag for a possible COVID-19 patient. A barrier curtain in the aircraft systematically protected the pilots from the cabin, and all crew members started to wear personal protective equipment just in case they had to fly a possible COVID-19 patient. Also, the aircraft and all equipment were sterilised after each and every mission.

“Since the beginning of the lockdown and until today, we have performed 60 missions, which is a marked decrease from our normal cases,” clarifies Horsman. When asked about the reason for this decrease in the number of EMS interventions, Horsman is categorical: “The restriction of sales on any alcohol has had a positive impact, limiting the number of cases we attend to where driving under the influence of alcohol is a factor! And the limited number of people and vehicles on the roads has had a significant impact on emergency services.”

Initially, a number of hospitals were reluctant or not permitted to refer COVID-19 cases. However, the fact that HALO was using the IsoArk Isolation Chamber, (equipped with its own negative pressure filtration system), provided them with a greater level of comfort. The IsoArk Isolation chamber, that has a filter performance of 99.9995% and provides seven access openings, is currently been used around the globe in the H145 family, the H155, and the Super Puma family.

But beyond the intensity of the missions during this pandemic period, Ryan Horsman acknowledges that, like many other helicopter operators, these months have made things look differently for both him and his team: “The COVID-19 crisis has necessitated that the entire world population review the way we do things. With each individual having to apply themselves completely to the mission, the COVID-19 crisis brings with it a whole host of issues that include financial concerns, employment continuity and personal hardships. So, more than ever, whilst we acknowledge the importance of social distancing, team cohesion is also key! I have a firm belief and can proudly state that the HALO team is made up of absolute superheroes who give their all in ensuring a positive outcome for their patient. From the administrative personnel, to the dispatchers, pilots, paramedics and doctors – the sole objective is to make a difference.”

Team cohesion for a positive outcome

But beyond the intensity of the missions during this pandemic period, Ryan Horsman acknowledges that, like many other helicopter operators, these months have made things look differently for both him and his team: “The COVID-19 crisis has necessitated that the entire world population review the way we do things. With each individual having to apply themselves completely to the mission, the COVID-19 crisis brings with it a whole host of issues that include financial concerns, employment continuity and personal hardships. So, more than ever, whilst we acknowledge the importance of social distancing, team cohesion is also key! I have a firm belief and can proudly state that the HALO team is made up of absolute superheroes who give their all in ensuring a positive outcome for their patient. From the administrative personnel, to the dispatchers, pilots, paramedics and doctors – the sole objective is to make a difference.”

“Fortunately, we have great support from Airbus and are well assured of the prompt supply and delivery of components and expedient service. This provides us all with peace of mind knowing that they are just a phone call away and almost literally up the road!”

Ryan Horsman, Chief Executive Officer of HALO Aviation

Emergency medical services

HEMS

H145

H145

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