Helipad to resupply blood for emergency medical providers, aid in major trauma care
To aid in the emergency use and delivery of blood in South Texas, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has built the first helicopter landing pad for a blood center in the state.
The landing site, which is between the BioBridge Global Headquarters Building and its Annex Building on San Antonio’s northwest side, is designed to serve two purposes:
Allow medical helicopters that carry specially screened units of whole blood to restock supplies as needed
Provide a location for helicopters to pick up blood for delivery to major trauma events or natural disasters
“Making this option available is just part of our commitment to saving lives,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of San Antonio-based nonprofit BioBridge Global. “Since we serve such a large area, it just made sense to provide this to helicopter operators as an option.”
The center helped launch a first-of-its-kind civilian system for using whole blood on helicopters more than two years ago. That system since has expanded to EMS units in multiple South Texas fire departments, including the San Antonio Fire Department, as well as hospital emergency rooms across the 40-plus counties the center serves.
Specially screened type O-positive blood donations for the program come through the blood center’s Brothers in Arms program.
“The landing pad also could help us quickly supply blood in the case of a mass casualty or weather event as part of the Blood Emergency Readiness Corps, the new national emergency blood supply system,” Mendoza said.
Emergency deliveries could be made within the operating range of the helicopters to medical facilities or remote locations, she said.
Previously, whole blood used on medical emergency helicopters was restocked via van delivery by the center’s Hospital Services team. (That option still remains open to the 12 agencies that operate the helicopters.)
But helicopters often cannot wait at either of the city’s level I trauma centers because of the high cost of operations and the potential for additional emergency needs for the hospitals’ helipads.
“We couldn’t always make those connections,” said John Barry, Director, Hospital Relations and Distribution for the blood center. “When they would go back without blood, then we would have to figure out that night or the morning after how we were going to get blood back to them.”
Restocking by ground delivery wasn’t a major issue for local agencies, but the whole blood program also is on helicopters as far away as Laredo and Carrizo Springs. Having a place for those helicopters to land and restock before returning to base just made sense, he said.
Barry, who was part of a similar system for whole blood use on medical emergency helicopters while in the military, worked with one medical helicopter operator to identify a location for the landing pad in a little-used parking lot.
“We got on Google Maps (of the parking lots) and we put it on the big screen,” Barry said. “We said, ‘Well, you can land two helicopters here.’ That was how the plan started.”
He then learned about the technical requirements, including lights, a windsock, a new asphalt base and markings, and the project was completed in less than a month.
The idea originated during a meeting with the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, an organization designed to develop, implement and maintain regional trauma and emergency healthcare system for 22 counties in South Texas.