COLUMBIA, Md. — This July marks the 40th anniversary of MedSTAR Transport, the life-saving air medevac pioneer. Since its inauguration in 1983, the trailblazing hospital-based transport service has treated and transported nearly 100,000 patients across the Mid-Atlantic region. It acts as a mobile lifeline for those in critical need.
From its first life-saving flight transporting a critical patient from Prince William County, Virginia, to what is now MedStar Washington Hospital Center, MedSTAR Transport has grown remarkably. The service has expanded to include four air ambulance helicopters, ten ground ambulances, a dedicated communications center, and a team of roughly 120 professionals. These include medical providers, flight crew members, communications specialists, and more, spanning four decades of unwavering service.
M. Joy Drass, MD, MedStar Health executive vice president, chief operating officer, and the program’s first medical director, reflects on the service’s growth as a “remarkable achievement.” She flew with the crew on the very first MedSTAR Transport flight, which transported a patient with a spinal cord injury requiring acute intervention.
MedSTAR Transport has become a crucial piece of the healthcare system, embodying a holistic approach to patient care. “It’s a system of care that moves patients into hopefully everything that they’re going to need for their journey,” says Dr. Drass. It operates in tandem with regional community hospitals and six MedStar Health hospitals equipped with helipads.
Over the years, MedSTAR Transport has played a significant role in community healthcare, serving around 6,000 patients annually. Transferring patients became pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic when the service saw a 40% increase in transport volume. Leveraging its advanced communication and transfer center, MedSTAR Transport effectively distributed critically ill patients across the health system, preventing individual hospitals from overloading.
This flexible, distributed care delivery network allowed MedStar Health to care for one in four of the region’s COVID-19 patients. MedSTAR Transport, as Dr. Drass notes, is the “safety net that allows us to move patients, even when they need a higher level of care.”
MedSTAR Transport’s legacy extends beyond healthcare infrastructure to emergency response, consistently serving as a beacon of hope in crisis situations. It gained national recognition for its rapid response during the 9/11 attacks and has remained a reliable resource for patients like Kevin Brooks and Devon Hall, who credit their survival to the service’s swift and proficient care.
In the ever-evolving medical industry, MedSTAR Transport has consistently adapted its practices to incorporate advancements in healthcare technology. Crews today undergo intensive training to offer advanced levels of care, managing patients requiring advanced respiratory therapies, among other services.
Kayla Lynch, RN, BSN, director of Nursing Professional Development for MedSTAR Transport, speaks highly of the growth opportunities provided by the organization. “Educationally and professionally, you’re working alongside clinicians who challenge you to be better and provide better care,” says Lynch.
As it moves into the future, MedSTAR Transport plans to optimize medical transport further, expand its ground medevac program, and provide more career growth opportunities for its crew. It looks forward to continuing its legacy of excellence, embodying the spirit that revolutionized the healthcare industry in 1983.
“They were very exciting times,” says Wade Smith, a 40-year veteran flight paramedic who served on MedSTAR Transport’s first flight, reflecting on the service’s history. “They’re still exciting times. That’s why I’m still doing it.”