STAT MedEvac flies fleet of 20 Airbus helicopters

EC135s and 145s fly out of 17 bases located in PA, OH, MD, DC. Control comes from the Center for Emergency Medicine of the University of Pittsburgh.

By Brent Bundy
Phoenix Police Officer-Pilot
AS350, AW119, Cessna 182/172/210

STAT MedEvac EC145 on approach to land at the UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh PA.

STAT. Common parlance for the need of expediency in the health care field. Not an episode of the myriad of medical dramas on TV goes by without someone yelling out "STAT" in a life or death situation. But for the millions of people living in the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania, it means even more.

For over 30 years, the air ambulance division of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has provided critical care transport to the Keystone State. While it often involves life and death, the drama is real in steel country. And when help is needed STAT, the men and women of STAT MedEvac answer the call.


Aeromedical flightcrew members removing lifesaving equipment from their helicopter after a recent mission.

In 1978, several hospitals in the Pittsburgh area recognized the benefits of combining forces to provide a multifaceted approach to emergency medical care for their constituents. This non-profit consortium would become the Center for Emergency Medicine (CEM), which remains a worldwide leader in education, research and critical care transport. Over time, the collection of hospitals comprising the CEM would all be brought under the umbrella of the UPMC Health System, which now wholly governs the organization.

As part of their quest to provide the best possible care for their patients, the CEM quickly realized there was a need to provide 1st-rate emergency health care to patients faster and more efficiently. To fulfill this requirement, the air ambulance arm of the CEM was opened in 1984. The new program was christened as STAT Angel One but would later take on the STAT MedEvac moniker to more clearly define their mission as a medical evac operator.

Being new to the business of aerial medical care, STAT allowed a 3rd party to handle the flight portions of this new endeavor. With the newly opened STAT home-base at AGC (Allegheny Co, West Mifflin PA), a natural fit to run things was CJ Systems, an activity located on-field. This relationship would continue until 2007 when STAT made the decision to acquire their own Part 135 certificate and take over complete control of the operation.

Currently 17 bases

STAT MedEvac's success was quickly validated and by 1994 they had opened 5 bases. By the turn of the century, that number had doubled as they ventured to Cleveland OH and Baltimore MD. For the next decade, they averaged a new base opening every year, eventually bringing them to their current total of 17, including locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and Washington DC.

Coordination and dispatch of aircraft are handled from their communications center located on the 13th floor of UPMC's flagship location of Presbyterian Shadyside Hospital, just outside of downtown Pittsburgh.


Dir of Ops John Kenny was a former Navy helicopter pilot and PA attorney before joining STAT MedEvac15 years ago.

As STAT MedEvac expanded and UPMC absorbed those initial participating hospitals, there were many changes to the program through trial and error. One aspect that worked well from the beginning is the Center for Emergency Medicine and its operational control of the flight department. The UPMC governs the not-for-profit CEM and all employees are treated as UPMC personnel, even though the CEM handles the day to day operations.

Assuring that things run smoothly is CEM President and CEO Douglas Garretson. After spending 30 years as a paramedic in Pittsburgh, eventually rising to the Chief of Pittsburgh EMS, he joined STAT in 2004 as Senior Director of Operations. In 2007, he was promoted to his current positions. In addition to his decades of experience in the EMS field, he is also a private pilot, an attribute he is proud of since it contributes to his ability to oversee STAT more effectively.

Garretson is quick to note that while his piloting skills help in his administration of the program, more important is the backing that STAT receives from UPMC. "We enjoy great support from our board of directors. We are tasked with providing high-quality service in terms of medical care and safe transport. We do this in part by flying twin-engine aircraft, having multiple check airmen, and ensuring a robust, proficient IFR operation that we take immense pride in," Garretson proclaims. "Safety is paramount to us. We were the 1st helicopter operator to participate in the FAA Aviation Safety Action Program.

We were the 1st rotor wing air medical program to achieve Argus Platinum rating (no longer maintained due to simulator requirements), and we were the 1st air medical provider in Western Pennsylvania to be accredited by CAMTS (Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems)."

Garretson also points out the emphasis his program places on IFR operations. STAT has developed and maintained nearly 40 GPS approaches to their facilities. All pilots are expected to maintain instrument currency and proficiency, with a minimum of 3 approaches per pilot, per month. In addition, they were one of the early adopters of the use of NVGs in aeromedical. They provide 3 sets of goggles for each aircraft and regular training is part of the regimen.

"We meet the expectations of our board without pressure for profit. STAT MedEvac operates independently with a positive bottom line," Garretson adds. Proof that the CEM and STAT are in capable hands was demonstrated in the fall of 2017 when Garretson was elected chairman of the board for the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS).


Dir of Mx Chuck Horgan has been working on STAT helicopters for nearly 30 years. He currently supervises 40 mx personnel.

In the early years of STAT MedEvac, they flew a variety of aircraft. Their 1st ship, Angel One, was an MBB BO105. Different models were added as more bases were opened, including EC AS355 TwinStars, AĆ©rospatiale AS365 Dauphins, MBB BK117s and Bell 430s. Although the aircraft changed, one constant was the use of twin-engine variants which they preferred for the performance and safety advantage.

In 1997, STAT took delivery of their 1st Eurocopter (now Airbus) EC135. This delivery of serial #9 carried great significance for both STAT and Airbus. It was the first EC135 to be operated in the USA and was also the beginning of a long, successful affiliation with Airbus. Since then, STAT has built their all-Airbus fleet to an impressive 20 aircraft: 15 EC135s and 5 EC145s. Older models are phased out and replaced with new ships offering an 8 to 10-year life cycle. Before delivery they are outfitted by Metro Aviation in Shreveport LA.


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