Care Flight assists Tonopah, Goldfield medical crews

With the nearest hospitals more than 100 miles from town, volunteer ambulance crews serving the Tonopah-Goldfield region played host to special visitors who help make sure the injured and ill get to expert medical care.

A Care Flight emergency medical helicopter stationed in Fallon on Feb. 26 flew to Tonopah, where a flight nurse, flight paramedic and pilot provided training to the seven volunteers with the local ambulance service.

The medics, who might be called upon to request help from Care Flight, were briefed on a variety of topics. They range from medical services the helicopter offers patients to safety while working around helicopters.

Pilot Chad Adair, flight nurse Gretchen McAfee and flight paramedic Ariel Wai arrived outside the Tonopah fire station off Main Street. They provided the training to the volunteers, answered questions and offered a look inside the medical helicopter that’s affiliated with the Reno-based REMSA (Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority).

“It’s great to come out and meet our first responders and give them some education and safety training regarding us,” McAfee said. “Because we’re all here for the best patient care so it’s good to meet everybody out here.”

Tonopah’s only hospital, Nye Regional Medical Center, closed in August 2015, meaning the nearest hospitals are in Bishop, California and Hawthorne in Nevada’s Mineral County.

Ambulances in the sky

The availability of Care Flight from the Reno region, Mercy Air in Las Vegas and Life Guard International/Flying ICU, for example, is bringing some comfort to Northern Nye and Esmeralda County residents while efforts continue to expand medical care options in Tonopah. The region also is without an emergency room or urgent care.

The Care Flight crew reported that someone could be flown from Tonopah to Reno in about 70 minutes. On board the medical helicopter is equipment, medications and trained staff to assist the patient en route to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, another hospital in Las Vegas or the burn unit at the University of California-Davis, for example.

Though seeing Care Flight in town may be new to some Tonopah residents, McAfee said Care Flight has been around 36 years.

“I think we’ve just marketed a little bit (more) because the (Tonopah) community has lost so much health care that we wanted to reach out to the community and say, ‘We are here,’” McAfee said. “We can help get you to your care as fast as we can.”

“We have come out here for years,” she said. “It’s just because they (Tonopah) had a hospital, we weren’t utilized as much as we are maybe utilized now.”

“We are here for their needs,” she added. “So hopefully they won’t need us, but we are here.”

Care Flight handles all ages and ranges of cases from medical conditions to trauma, she said.

Training praised

Volunteer ambulance crew members found the Care Flight training “very beneficial.”

“We know what they can do for us, what they can’t do for us and different ways for us to be safe,” said Dawn Gudmunson, a volunteer who serves both Tonopah and Goldfield.

Jerry Yeager, rescue captain for the Tonopah Volunteer Fire Department and an area commander for Nye County Search and Rescue, also attended the Care Flight training.

“It’s very helpful,” Yeager said of Care Flight’s availability to the region. “Especially with now not having a hospital …and getting them (patients) care in a timely manner.”

Care Flight’s training visit allowed him to meet helicopter crewmembers in person.

“It’s always good to put names with faces and get to know the crews you are dealing with in some of the most unfortunate situations you’re ever dealing with,” Yeager said.

Contact reporter David Jacobs at