Susan Crum leads an air ambulance program that has a spotless accident record.
“We’re accident-free,” says Crum, director of the 22-year-old Cox Air Care, one of 10 air ambulance programs in Missouri. “We want to send people home at the end of the day.”
Crum has logged 1,700 patient flights as a registered nurse and flight paramedic during 18 years providing air medical treatment. She’s been stationary the past five years, focused on managing CoxHealth’s medical crew of 14, four pilots and two mechanics.
“I’ve transitioned from the clinical world into the management side. But for many years, I did both,” she says. “I wore two hats at the same time.”
The air medicine subspecialty treats patients similar to ground ambulance care, but Crum says there are two distinct differences: the critical nature of patients and a higher level of care. She says patients transported via helicopter are generally critically injured and are often sick babies, children and the elderly. CoxHealth’s four-year-old “big blue” air ambulance is staffed with an RN and a flight paramedic on each flight.
Crum is responsible for hiring, training and coordinating additional staff education.
“This is a higher level of care, so there is always some kind of education that’s got to be taking place,” Crum says, noting she also coordinates mechanical work with contracted mechanics from Air Methods Corp. “That may mean interacting with pilots, or making maintenance decisions with the mechanics. Also, I’m a direct link between the flight program and hospital administration so the flight program blends in with the functioning of the rest of the hospital.”
Though she’s no longer providing direct care, she stays connected to patients through her team and through legislative efforts.
“I take pleasure in seeing patients come back and ask to see the flight crew that flew them,” she says, remembering a young man she cared for 20 years ago who still calls or visits on the anniversary date of the ambulance flight. “He’s always remembered that and feels like I contributed to him still being alive.”
Crum is active in the state air ambulance subcommittee, which reports to the governor’s advisory committee. The group meets monthly in Jefferson City to help guide air ambulance legislation and policies, such as line of duty death benefits for flight nurses and paramedics that was adopted in 2009.
“That hadn’t been available in the state of Missouri. That was a win,” she says.Click here for full coverage of the 2011 Salute to Health Care.