Guest Editorial: Medical pilots see the cost of drunk driving

Posted on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Seventeen million Americans admitted to driving drunk at some point in 2010, according to a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Amazingly, if this same group of people lived in the same state, it would rank fifth in size between Florida and Illinois. Despite significant improvements over the last decade, the statistics remain sobering: 27 people die every day in alcohol related traffic crashes, representing more than one third of all traffic fatalities. Drunken driving and alcohol abuse in general remain a major problem for the American health care system, consuming large amounts of much needed and stretched thin resources and funds.
In an effort to raise awareness, PHI Air Medical – operating locally as AirCare Medevac with a helicopter stationed at Shannon Airport in Fredericksburg — launched a provocative, annual public advocacy campaign in 2010 entitled “You Drink, You Drive, We Fly.” As a health care provider and active member of emergency response systems in Westmoreland County and throughout Virginia, we felt it was important that we take a proactive role in educating the public about the dangers of impaired motor vehicle operation and alcohol abuse. Each year, our paramedics, nurses and pilots care for and transport hundreds of Virginians whose lives are forever impacted by an alcohol related accidents or illnesses. Sadly, several of these patients are not the offender. They are innocent victims who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A particular focus of our campaign and outreach is directed at teenagers and young adults. As any parent will tell you, teenagers are invincible.
Just ask one. Our goal is not to simply tell them, but to show them this is not true. Statistically, one in five teenagers binge drink. Incredibly, only one in 100 parents believe his or her teen binge drinks (Institute of Medicine, 2003). All told, teen alcohol use kills more than 6,000 people each year, totaling more than all illegal drugs combined  (Hingson and Kenkel, 2003).
We coordinate annually with local school systems, law enforcement, EMS and fire departments to educate young people on the dangers of alcohol abuse. Leveraging the strong relationships we have with these local organizations, PHI Air Medical participates in events such as Prom Promise, staged accident scenes and more. Educating the public is very important. Educating those who represent our future is imperative.
PHI Air Medical represents a very small portion of the emergency services network that stands ready to protect and care for the citizens of Westmoreland County and surrounding communities. We are humbled and proud to be a part of this dedicated group. If “You Drink, You Drive, We Fly” positively influences one decision, one time and prevents a serious injury or death, we have accomplished our goal.

Erik Rohde
Leesburg

Erik Rohde is  former flight paramedic with over 25 years of emergency medical experience. He is currently the Regional Director for PHI Air Medical’s east coast operations. PHI Air Medical, LLC provides aviation support for many of the nation’s leading health care organizations. The Air Medical fleet consists of aircraft outfitted with medical interiors conducive to providing sustained emergency care during  medical transports. Operating as AirCareMedevac, PHI Air Medical operates from five strategic locations throughout Virginia.

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