Dennis Jones will never forget the time he helped deliver a baby in midair—on a Johns Hopkins Lifeline helicopter. “A call came into our communications center, and we had to fly a high-risk maternity patient in preterm labor back to the hospital,” says Jones, now Lifeline’s safety and quality officer, as he reminisces about his time as a critical care flight nurse, recalling just one of the memorable events in his nearly 25-year career with Lifeline.
This year, the Lifeline critical care transport and the Johns Hopkins Access Line (HAL) each celebrate their 25th anniversary. “In the early 1990s, our team found that critically ill and injured patients being transferred to The Johns Hopkins Hospital were transported in poorly equipped and inadequately staffed basic life support ambulances,” says Jim Scheulen, chief administrative officer for emergency medicine and capacity management. “At the same time, we knew it was difficult for referring physicians to reach a Johns Hopkins physician. So we filled this gap.”
Since their inception in 1992, HAL and Lifeline have worked hand in hand. When a referring physician calls Johns Hopkins to transfer a patient, the call comes into the Hopkins Access Line, and the transfer is coordinated. This could include connecting the physician with an attending, and coordinating with bed management and admitting to ensure that a room is available. Once a room is open, the Hopkins communications center—or HopComm—dispatches a Lifeline transportation crew by ambulance or helicopter to pick up the patient.
“Soon after their development, patient volumes increased, patient outcomes improved, and HAL and Lifeline became the model referral and transportation system,” says Scheulen. “We created a new kind of specialty—transport medicine.”
Lifeline began with one ambulance and 250 patient transports a year. The program has since grown to 120 team members, and is involved in 22,000 air, ground and in-house transports each year. Since HAL was developed, its team has doubled in size and currently handles 2,000 calls a week and 900 requests a month for transfers from other hospitals.
“We try to get patients the best and most appropriate care by connecting them to the right service,” says Kathleen McCullum, HAL supervisor. “We are not directly involved with patient care, but we are the point people who help make it much easier for patients to be transferred in.”
“Lifeline is a service that people can depend on, and it’s become the norm here at Johns Hopkins. But if you go to most other hospitals, this service doesn’t exist,” says Jones. “Many hospitals have transportation programs, but they don’t provide all the services we do, particularly in-house. We are very unique.”
One of the more recent milestones in Lifeline’s and HAL’s histories happened last year, when the teams relocated to the Judy Reitz Capacity Command Center. The move now makes it easier to coordinate transfers with other departments, and allows access to state-of-the-art technology and analytics that could predict when patient demand might outweigh hospital capacity.
“Together, they have brought Johns Hopkins medical care to hundreds of thousands of patients in the past 25 years,” Scheulen says. “And they’re just good at what they do.”
For more information about the history of Lifeline, visit hopkinsmedicine. org/lifeline/about/history.html.