Last updated: May 23. 2014 12:56PM - 1102 Views
By James O’Malley Times Leader Correspondent



Commonwealth Health CEO Cor Catena unvails new critical care ambulances and plans for a critical care helicopter during an event on May 22.
Commonwealth Health CEO Cor Catena unvails new critical care ambulances and plans for a critical care helicopter during an event on May 22.
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From the outside, the vehicles look like any other ambulance, but inside they’re loaded with specialized equipment and a highly trained staff.


Commonwealth Health, in conjunction with Lackawanna Ambulance, unveiled what they’re calling the region’s first critical-care ground transport service Thursday. In addition, a patient-transport helicopter will arrive in three months.


The service will cover more than 1 million people in 11 counties, including Luzerne and Lackawanna.


Cor Catena, CEO of Commonwealth Health, introduced the two critical-care vehicles — a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and a Critical Care Transport Unit.


The NICU, which will provide care for infants younger than 1 month, entered service as soon as paramedics removed the black sheet hiding it from public view. The other vehicle is scheduled to begin operating Aug. 1, and will serve patients of all ages.


Catena also announced the medical helicopter, Commonwealth One, will round out the critical-care lineup starting Sept. 1.


“We’re going to have care here that we haven’t had here ever,” said paramedic Joe Moran.


Moran, a paramedic of eight years, said the new vehicles with their lifesaving gear and rigorously trained staff equip caregivers with “the ability to sustain life” when transporting the extremely ill.


He said he plans to soon, but has not yet undergone the training necessary to work on the new units.


But paramedic John Grady has.


Grady said he left his wife and dog behind in March and April for three straight weeks of rigorous training in North Carolina.


He and eight others spent eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week, he said, learning an exhaustive list of skills, including advanced airway management and invasive monitoring techniques, as well as specialized medication and blood administration.


Basically, he said, “everything we did as a paramedic, but on a more intricate level.”


The critical-care ground vehicles will be especially useful during extreme weather conditions, where transporting a patient by air becomes impractical if not impossible, Grady said.


“If it won’t fly, we can run it by ground,” he said.


Michael Horwath, critical care clinical coordinator at Lackawanna Ambulance, will run the new critical-care unit, and said his department is charged with “bringing hospital level care to the pre-hospital environment.”


He said he doesn’t foresee any problems with the system’s staggered roll-out provided all the preparation and training is completed on time.


“There’s a lot of work to be done and not a lot of time to do it,” Horwath said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a smooth transition.”


CEO of Lackawanna Ambulance and Moses Taylor Hospital Justin Davis said the critical-care transportation system will provide an invaluable service to the community, bringing advanced care closer to those who need it.


“We don’t have to call a far-off county and ask for it to be dispatched to us,” he said. “This is going to save lives.”


The two critical-care ground units will be stationed at Lackawanna Ambulance headquarters in Scranton, and the helicopter will be kept at Seamans Airport in Factoryville.


Commonwealth Health said the service will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and will be ready to mobilize within minutes of a call.


An affiliate of Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc., Commonwealth Health owns 11 hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania, making it the largest hospital network in the region.


Community Health Systems Inc. is one of the largest publicly traded hospital companies in the nation, operating 208 hospitals in 29 states.

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