For the last six years, since Loudoun Memorial Hospital in Leesburg began transferring severely injured patients by helicopter for certain emergency treatments at other hospitals, rescue workers have had to put up with the vagaries of weather at the grassy landing site on the front lawn of the hospital.
Sometimes deep snow made it difficult to bring the patient from the hospital to the helicopter. Occasionally, in wet weather, the helicopter runners sank into the mud.
By January, hospital administrators expect, these problems will be relegated to history. The hospital plans to build a permanent, specially lighted concrete landing site, or heliport, about 50 yards from the east side of the hospital.
"It will be kind of upgrading the capability we had before. It will be an all-weather type of thing," said administrator Kent Stevens. "It will save some time, give us better lighting in the area, and will improve the site from a landing standpoint."
The new landing site will enhance what hospital officials consider a necessary and important service. The hospital transfers by helicopter an average of three patients a month, most of whom have been injured in automobile accidents. Patients are flown to hospitals that have shock trauma centers and specialists and equipment not available in Leesburg.
Many of the patients are taken to Washington Hospital Center, which has a sophisticated center for treating severely burned patients. Loudoun Memorial does not have a burn center. Patients are also flown to hospitals in Fairfax and in Maryland.
In most cases the helicopters are owned by the city hospitals, although some patients have been transported in helicopters owned by the Fairfax County Police Department, Stevens said. While an ambulance trip to Washington Hospital Center might take more than an hour, a helicopter can get there in less than 17 minutes, he said.
"There are a lot of areas of Loudoun County that are really still extremely rural . . . and there are some really severe accidents here when the patient is much better off being stabilized at Loudoun Memorial and rapidly transported to a major trauma center," Stevens said.
"Several years ago a young boy and his bicycle were involved in a vehicular accident," Stevens said. The boy, who was injured, also had hemophilia, a blood condition that causes the victim to bleed excessively. "We were able to stabilize him here, and transport him immediately to Washington Hospital Center. I think in that case the capability really saved his life."