When a 911 dispatcher contacts ShandsCair’s Alison O’Connor, E.M.T. and A.C.S., she begins working immediately.
As a ShandsCair dispatcher, one of O’Connor’s many jobs is finding the closest aircraft and most appropriate team to send to those in need of emergency medical assistance, and she knows she has no time to waste.
“It’s a split-second decision you have to make,” she said.
O’Connor, who has been a communication/transportation specialist for 13 years, fields calls all day concerning people across the country who need to be transported to a hospital or emergency room, and soon.
“Even in dispatch, there are some calls you remember forever,” she said. “It affects you just as much as it affects the person who just responded to the emergency situation.”
O’Connor’s tasks include responding to and coordinating interfacility transports, ambulance or flight requests and trauma alerts while also ensuring the medical specialists who arrive at the scene are the ones who are most qualified to help that particular patient.
So if O’Connor receives a call about a child who has been in an accident, she does her best to make sure someone who specializes in children, such as a pediatric nurse, is on that helicopter.
“I think about the group of people I’d want to be there if it were my kid,” she said. “We’re one of the only flight programs that can mix and match any combination of a nurse, medic, neonatal nurse, respiratory therapist… We mold to whatever the person needs, sometimes even flying our medical director.”
Though a computer system tells O’Connor where the closest aircraft are and how long it will take them to arrive at their destinations, she and two other dispatchers work together to make instantaneous decisions about who to send where, when and how. O’Connor and her team also refer calls to transient aircraft if they are closer to the patient in need or if ShandsCair’s aircraft are all being used at the time.
“It’s all about prioritizing, multitasking and thinking outside the box,” she said. “You have to think about who needs you most, and you have to keep the patient first.”
While ShandsCair flight teams are in the air, O’Connor tracks and communicates with them to make sure they aren’t in the same air space as other aircraft – sometimes monitoring up to five helicopters at a time.