Clinton Burley Speaks About the Role Emergency Medical Services Play During COVID-19

Apr 27, 2020

Medical professionals are doing their best to helicopter sick patients affected by COVID-19. Clinton Burley, president and chief executive officer of HealthNet Aeromedical Services, is highly involved in the emergency medical services. 

Through the decades, Burley served as a field paramedic, flight paramedic, EMS educator, public relations officer and flight program manager. HealthNet Aeromedical Services is the nation’s third-largest not-for-profit critical care transport program. 


What can West Virginia businesses do – right now – to survive this current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic situation we’re all facing today?


“HealthNet is a 501 C3 organization that’s cooperatively owned by WVU Medicine, Charleston Area Medical Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital. We’ve been serving West Virginia since 1986. We provide service from 10 different helicopter bases that are strategically located throughout central Appalachia. 

We’ve been really on the ground floor of transporting the sickest of the sick. Those that are affected by COVID-19 along with managing the regular patients that we care for throughout the state every day; Those that are victims of trauma, cardiac patients, premature labor, premature infants. A routine business continues even though we’re a laser focus on preparing for and caring for those COVID-19 patients. We have an excellent system in place to identify those patients from the outset. Make sure those crews are ready and well-equipped to manage the patient medically and for them to be safe in the process.

Between our air and ground operations, as of our 8 AM update this morning – we’ve transported 196 either confirmed patients or those who are persons under investigation. These are very, very sick people, and it’s a humble calling to be out there for them as our teams do every day,” said Burley.


“It’s really focused on protecting the team members. The clinical delivery of managing these critical patients is what we do every day. What we have to increase when dealing with a patient who has COVID-19 is making certain that our team is protected. So, we have instituted a process under which one of our communications centers received a call for a potential COVID patient.

A senior leader is involved with screening and making sure that the team member is ready to go out and deal with the patients. Then, we also track the patient following the transport following the hospital to determine their status is moving forward. Thus far, the system has worked very well,” said Burley.


Cooperatively owned and operated by West Virginia’s three academic medical centers and operating twelve helicopters flying from ten base sites, HealthNet’s teams annually care for and transport more than 5,000 patients. As a fully accredited program, in November 2019, HealthNet was named the National Program of the Year by the Association of Air Medical Services.

“There’s really a multi-step process. It all starts with calls that go into our communications centers. Each of our owner’s health systems has a communication center. So, we have one in Charleston, Morgantown and Huntington. The calls originate there. They alert the flight team’s nearest aircraft to respond to a specific patient. 

Each helicopter base is 24/7, 365. We have a pilot on duty as well as a critical care flight paramedic and a critical care flight nurse. They typically work 24-hour shifts. The pilots work 12-hour shifts. They’re on duty ready to respond much as you’d see at a fire station.

By the time a call is received at the communications center, the crew is alerted, the team is prepared, flight plans are filed, and the aircraft is in the air in around 10 minutes or less. Now, we don’t hold our crews for 10 minutes. We want them to take their time to do it safely,” said Burley.


“We did have a general plan for highly communicable diseases. We transfer people who are suffering from infectious diseases as routine business. So, what this has caused us to do is to think of things differently. Instead of having a single patient with a contagious disease, we’re dealing with multiple patients a day. 

Making sure you have the equipment. Making sure care strategies are being changed on the potential exposure. We think of things differently to make sure that our logistics department is sourcing all of the equipment necessary to deal with these patients at a very high level. Making sure that our safety department has a system in place to track the patient after delivery to a tertiary hospital. This stuff goes around the clock in our system. While we had a plan in place for individual patients, we had to round up to 24-hour operations,” said Burley.


“The innovation in this time actually goes with the old cliche of out-of-the-box thinking. There is an emerging technology, but it’s in short supply. I’d like nothing more for every community hospital in West Virginia to have that testing capability, but that’s not possible. So, there’s innovation going on. We may not be able to touch all of that. 

We have to think outside the box to make sure that we’ve got the resource pools so that team members can effectively care for patients while protecting themselves. I think that it is a combination of innovation and technology and out-of-the-box thinking,” said Burley.

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