New state-of-the-art masks protecting local medical helicopter crews

Michael D. Pitman, Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio
·2 min read

Feb. 23—Premier Health is the first in the region to incorporate system-wide, aviation-specific masks for CareFlight's medical helicopters and mobile intensive care units.

The P100 Tiger Performance masks are used industry-wide for air medical transport, said Molly Nickell, CareFlight's clinical operations manager. The reusable P100 respirator masks protect against about 99.97% of airborne particles and are connected to the helicopter and ground units for "seamless communications" with the CareFlight crew and air traffic controllers.

"It's made a complete difference in our operations," said Nickell, who is also a flight nurse and paramedic.

Premier Health operates several medical facilities in the region, including Atrium Medical Center in Middletown and Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.

Masks are fitted for each of CareFlight's crew members to be worn for extended periods of time during transport in the aircraft and in the mobile intensive care unit. There are about 100 people that are fitted with the masks, and will be a permanent part of CareFlight's operations, Nickell said.

"Because the masks are reusable, we're eliminating waste," Beth Calcidise, director of CareFlight Air and Mobile. "We no longer need to utilize the hospital supply of N95 or N100 masks."

When taking helmets on and off, the N95 masks were not sturdy enough. Bands would break or masks would flip, and would inadvertently cause seals to break. After adjustments to push for more sturdy masks, Nickell said communication with air traffic control and among CareFlight staff became muffled.

And in times like the recent bad weather, where communication is even more critical, she said.

"Safety is our top priority. Anytime that there is any communication that needs to happen ... it is imperative that we are able to communicate right then," Nickell said.

The Tiger masks, which were purchased out of Premier Health's COVID-19 disaster fund, are made of pliable silicone that conforms to the user's face and eliminates the potential for inadvertent loss of the mask seal when worn with the aircraft helmet, according to Premier Health. The masks also are also compatible with CareFlight's night vision goggles that are required at night.

The masks are also used during the ground transport, where the driver's cab and patient compartment are sealed from one another in order to isolate and decrease the potential exposure of COVID-19 to the driver of the mobile intensive care unit's driver. The masks plug into the mobile unit's communication system, just like it does with the aircraft.

"If we can keep our staff safe, we can everyone else safe," Nickell said.