UNMH Lifeguard program expands fleet to help respond to more calls

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A decades-long program out of the University of New Mexico Hospital is expanding in hopes of saving more lives across the state. “Lifeguard is the University of New Mexico Hospital’s critical care transport program we have airplanes, helicopters, and ground ambulances,” said Lifeguard Program Director, Margaret O’Donnell.

For the past 40 years, the Lifeguard Program at UNMH has been serving the entire state of New Mexico, getting critical care patients to and from hospitals. “We fly with physicians they are actually trained as clinical team members so there’s not a differentiation between the nurse or the doctor or the RT they all have the exact same job,” said O’Donnell.

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Each team can easily transition from helicopter to plane, to ambulance. “As a nurse there are certain things that we would do at lifeguard that I would never be allowed to do at the hospital,” said O’Donnell.

Even with the diverse transportation fleet, O’Donnell said to help meet demand they need more. “New Mexico is a very rural area and it has some challenges at times providing medical care especially rural outlying areas to the west and to the northwest,” said O’Donnell.

Last year, Lifeguard responded to more than 4,500 calls but that number is expected to grow in the coming months. “We’re going to be putting on a third airplane hopefully in the fall,” said O’Donnell.

Calls come in and depending on who is available first, that department can respond. The program is only able to get to about one-third of their call requests. “We’re unique within the state we have the only neonatal transport team in the state of New Mexico the next closest would be Denver,” said O’Donnell.

“Just being able to fly these long distances and bring patients back to more tertiary care centers and provide that service and we serve the whole state of New Mexico,” said O’Donnell.

O’Donnell said the Lifeguard program will be hiring for more pilots and nurses this fall to help fill the new plane.

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