Hospital seeks $7M for medical helicopter

Published 8:19 am Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NORFOLK—Nightingale, the nonprofit air ambulance service that shuttles patients with emergencies to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, is seeking donations to help purchase a new $7 million helicopter.

Sentara spokesperson Maria Williamson said Monday that Nightingale plans to purchase a Eurocopter EC145 to replace its current helicopter, an EC135 model that it acquired in 1986. Nightingale would take delivery of the French chopper in May or June of 2011. Eurocopter is based in Marignane, France.

Williamson confirmed that Nightingale has already approached one locality it serves, Currituck County, N.C., for a $1 million donation for the new helicopter. She said additional proposals for donations were being put together for eventual presentation to other localities served by Nightingale.

“The other proposals will be made later in the year, or even next year,” Williamson said.

She declined to identify what localities would be approached to make a donation, but did confirm that three other entities, either corporations or individual donors, have been approached by Nightingale to make a donation of at least $1 million.

Southampton Assistant County Administrator Jay Randolph, Franklin Mayor Jim Councill and Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson all said Tuesday that, to their knowledge, their respective jurisdictions had not been approached by the Sentara Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the hospital that is in charge of the fundraising campaign for the new helicopter.

“We’re a rural hospital, and it’s invaluable for us to have the Nightingale service for the patients in our community,” said Anne Williams, the marketing director and spokesperson for Southampton Memorial Hospital in Franklin. “We’re not set up to handle the major traumas and cardiac incidents. Nightingale saves many lives. It would be devastating not to have the service available.”

Kimberly Rideout, spokeswoman for Franklin Fire & Rescue, said a Nightingale flight to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital would take about 15 minutes, while ground transport would take 45 minutes “on a good day.”

“Time is of the essence to get them to Norfolk General,” Rideout said. “They have advance doctors on call there.”

Williamson said most of the Nightingale’s flights, 38 percent, are to Currituck County. Western Tidewater — which she said comprised Surry, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and the cities of Franklin and Suffolk — have the second-highest number of Nightingale flights, between 18 and 19 percent.

Nightingale has had more than 16,000 flights since its inception in 1982, Williamson said. It serves a 125-mile radius from Sentra Norfolk General Hospital.