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Flight Nurse and Care Flight Pioneer Retires

By ThisIsReno

In 1981, Care Flight was launched as a joint venture between Renown Health (then Washoe Medical Center) and Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno. The medical helicopter service was established to better serve the northern Nevada and northern California communities with fast medical response and transportation. Registered nurse, Jane Miller played a key role in helping Care Flight launch and was named the first-ever Chief Flight Nurse for the organization. In 1985, when ground ambulance was added to the mix, the Washoe County Health Department awarded the Care Flight franchise to the Air Ambulance Authority and the name was changed to Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA).

Miller has served with Care Flight and REMSA in a variety of roles since that time. On June 18, 2012, she announced her retirement leaving a legacy of helping Care Flight become one of the nation’s premier air ambulance programs.

Miller has been a registered nurse for 45 years, graduating from Holy Cross School of Nursing in South Bend, In., in 1967. She has served as a flight nurse for 37 of those years. In 1975, Miller began working as a nurse at Saint Anthony’s Hospital in Denver, Co., in the ICU. Saint Anthony’s began the first ever hospital-based flight program in the U.S. called Flight For Life. Prior to this, all flight nurses had worked on fixed wing aircraft or were members of the military.

In 1978, Miller became the first ever Assistant Chief Flight Nurse for the Flight For Life program and organized a team of nurses to develop a flight nurse orientation program. This was another pioneer effort as it was the first written and organized orientation for flight nurses in the U.S. During this time she also helped to implement a rural educational program via teleconferencing in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Idaho using the NASA Communication Video System. This was the first rural continuing education effort for this area using NASA satellites.

From 1979 to 1980, Miller’s career took a turn when Henry Cleveland, a renowned trauma surgeon, selected her to be the nurse to accompany U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy as he campaigned across the country for the democratic presidential nomination. She took a 10-month hiatus from flight nursing and became Sen.Kennedy’s private trauma nurse. Her job, as dictated by his mother, was “to save his life if anything happened to him.” To that purpose, she was never more than 10 feet away from him when he was outside of his personal suite.

In 1981, the National Flight Nurses Association (NFNA) was organized and implemented and took the orientation of flight nurses a step further with the publication of the first text book, “Flight Nursing-Principles and Practice.” While working for Care Flight, Miller was the co-editor of the trauma section of this first edition. Now this text is in its third edition, and is still the gold standard text for flight nurse orientation. In 1982 while also working at Care Flight, Miller became the chairman of the Clinical Practice and Standards Committee of the American Society of Hospital Based Emergency Air Medical Services (ASHBEAMS), now known as Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS). This was the first time clinical standards and practices for nursing in the civilian air transport environment were put down on paper. Again, she was a pioneer in the development of this aspect of flight nursing. Miller continued as a member of this committee for 15 years as well as spending 10 years on the ASHBEAMS Finance Committee.

In December of 1980, Miller came to work for Washoe Medical Center (now Renown Health) in Reno as the Chief Flight Nurse for their new Life Flight Helicopter Program. This became a joint venture with Saint Mary’s Hospital in 1981 with the new name of Care Flight. At this time, flight nursing in Nevada was still in its infancy, and Miller became the nurse advocate to the Nevada State Board of Nursing to assure nurses in Nevada could provide care in the prehospital setting without being a paramedic. With her efforts, Nevada became the first state in the U.S. where a nurse’s practice was not restricted because they were not certified paramedics. Miller practiced as the Director of Care Flight for six years and in 1991 became the first Vice President of REMSA.

As Vice President of REMSA, Miller continued to direct the air transport service for nine years until 2000. As part of her role, she worked with the Washoe County Health Department to develop the first Washoe County Multi-Casualty Incident Plan, served as the air ambulance representative on the Nevada state EMS Advisory Committee (1987-1992), and on the Nevada Committee for the Development of Regulations for Air Ambulance Services which incorporated personnel, protocols and equipment on the air ambulance. Also during this time, she was instrumental in placing the first ever MD 900 (McDonald Douglas twin engine helicopter) in EMS into service in the world.

Miller’s efforts at REMSA have also resulted in the fact that of the more than 12,000 EMS agencies in the United States, REMSA is one of only three organizations in the world to be accredited by Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS), the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transportation Systems (CAMTS), and also the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAED) as a Center of Excellence in Emergency Medical Dispatch. She also helped establish of the first ever homebound flu vaccination program for Washoe County.

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