Sentara Norfolk’s Nightingale team on pandemic protocols, being the first to air-transport COVID-19 patients


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Nightingale team at Sentara Norfolk General knew it was not a matter of “if” but “when” they would need to transport a COVID-19 positive patient.

Social distancing in an air ambulance is just not possible. Three people have to fit in the back of the chopper — the fight nurse, flight paramedic and patient — along with all the equipment. So they devised a plan and immediately put protocols in place.

“We have to put eye protection on, hair protection, gloves, a full body suit on, shoe covers, everything to make certain that we are not being exposed to COVID as well,” explained Denise Baylous, the flight manager of Nightingale.

The time to transport a COVID-19 patient came sooner rather than later after the pandemic hit the United states.

Nightingale was called to transport a COVID-19 patient from Richmond. The transport was a success, making them the first team in the region to air-transport a coronavirus patient.

“It was a lot of work for my team,” said Baylous. “We all came together to make certain that we were putting together protocols that were safe not only for the flight team that was working, but the pilot that’s on, as well as our mechanics and everybody else we’re working with.” 

Since then, they’ve done countless similar flights.

“Once we developed the protocols, we reached out to the other areas to see if they had anything to add to our protocols and then we shared our protocols with them,” Baylous continued. “We want to make certain we’re sharing everything with other flight teams so we’re all safe doing this.”

Safely transporting the COVID-19 patient is only half the battle.

“On top of that, it takes us about two to three hours after a COVID transport to wipe everything down, to get everything safe to where we can go on another flight. So it is very time-intensive for the team.”

According to Baylous, while the time-intensive cleanup does mean extra work on the back end of a flight, it does not affect their response times to emergencies.

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