MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – James Ernette and Cathy Richards are two members of the WVU Medicine Children’s Transport Team. Their jobs involve saving the lives of children.

Ernette is a registered respiratory therapist, and Richards is the nurse manager for the Children’s Transport Team. They are responsible for transporting patients to the hospital by using a critical care mobile unit.

James Ernette, Registered Respiratory Therapist, WVU Medicine Children’s

“I get to fly in helicopters,” Ernette said. “I get to take care of sick children. To me, there’s nothing better or nothing more rewarding.”

Richards’ role is more of an overseer. Her team, affectionately, calls her “Mama Cathy.”

“It is my job to make sure that everybody is trained, everybody is showing up on time,” she said. “I also work alongside them. I’ve been a member of the transport team since 2006. And, transport nursing has been my career in Canada, as well as West Virginia, and, so, I like to stay current.” 

By current, she means she still goes out and works alongside her different teams to stay current in the role and to stay current with the topics. She said she also wants to know what they are encountering, how they work together and the way to “provide the best possible care for the children.”

Cathy Richards, Nurse Manager, Children’ Transport Team

The constant desire to provide the best care for all patients is something that Richards shares with Ernette. He, too, spends time staying current on the best practices in the medical field.

Whether he goes by air or land, Ernette said he and his colleagues who venture out in the field always want to be prepared.

In the field, at what is known as “the base,” they have a helicopter, vehicles, as well as all the equipment they could need.

That constant level of preparedness, he said, is the secret to their success and providing the best care.

“If we can’t fly, we go by ground, but either way, it cuts down on our time out the door, and we can get there even faster,” Ernette said. “We have two teams that are dedicated at a moment’s notice to get out the door as fast as we possibly can to transport our patient back to our state-of-the-art units.”

Once patients arrive at WVU Medicine Children’s, it can still be very difficult for parents and families to cope with the situation of a loved one being hospitalized.

That is why, Richards said, the Transport Team incorporates families into the treatment process.

Ernette and Richards on the WVU Medicine helipad

“If it’s a neonate, if it’s a baby, we obviously are concentrating everything that we are talking about to the parents,” Richards said. “If it is a school-age child, we talk in their language, the way that they can understand what’s happening to them, as well as include the parents.  So, it’s a family unit. It’s family-centered care.”

That focus on family, she said, immediately starts when crews first arrive at any facility referring a patient for transport.

“We start the culture right away,” she said.  “When the transport team arrives, we are not only going to take care of your child, but we’re taking care of you as a family, and, so, that continues on once we get here at WVUMC. The family is a unit, and we try to take care of them as a family unit.”

Providing a high level of care that extends to the patients’ families is only possible when people care about what they do. Proof lies in the fact that Richards and Ernette are passionate about their work.

They both describe their work as rewarding and said they are dedicated to doing what it takes to save lives and send patients home to their families.

“It’s a very cool thing to do that. We are able to take this mobile critical care unit, we can start to take care of the patient out there and bring them back here for definitive treatment,” Richards said.  “So, it is a very rewarding job, and I know that I speak for the entire team, that they feel rewarded each day when they go home.”

Finding pleasure in saving lives and constantly working to be knowledgeable, as well as prepared to save even more people, is what some would call heroic.

Ernette and Richards talking on the helipad

But Richards and Ernette don’t see it that way.

“Do I feel heroic when I’m successful? Yes.  Do I feel as though I’m a hero?  I feel as though I’m just a man making a way in this world. It’s one of those situations where I feel this job is what I’ve been called to do. I’ve been planted where I believe, through my faith, is where I need to be.  So, being a part of that helps me to look at it as ‘well, you know, this is where you’re supposed to be, just do what you’re supposed to do.’ It’s not anything that I feel needs recognition. A simple ‘thank you’ is good enough for me.”

James Ernette – Registered Respiratory Therapist, WVU Medicine Children’s

Richards said she doesn’t necessarily dislike the label of a hero, she just felt it was not sufficiently inclusive.

As cliché as it may sound, she said, “there’s no ‘I’ in team.”

WVUMC partners with other agencies, such as Healthnet, Healthteam and Mon EMS. In addition, she is only one person on a team full of registered nurses, respiratory therapists, advanced practitioners, all the way along to the EBS staff members who work to sanitize equipment and get them ready for the next emergency.

“It’s everybody,” Richards said. “So, when you say ‘hero’ it sounds singular, but this team, they are heroes in my book. And, that is the entire team.”

If you would like to nominate a healthcare professional or professionals as a Healthcare Hero, visit the Healthcare Heroes page on the 12 News website.