Nebraska ambulance company adds 2nd helicopter

By: AP
By: AP

Hastings, NE (AP) - A medical transportation company officially has begun the service of its new, Hastings-based helicopter, a long-awaited addition to the company's existing ground and air transportation fleet.

Midwest Medical Transport Co., Nebraska's largest private ambulance operator, operates ambulance and wheelchair transportation services in Hastings and 12 other cities across Nebraska and western Iowa and has been operating a single Midwest MedAir helicopter based at North Platte Regional Airport since 2010.

The Hastings Tribune reports the company's new, second chopper arrived at the Hastings Airport in January and has been undergoing quality testing since then. The craft received its final certification for medical response calls March 4.

"Our flight service in North Platte receives pretty consistent calls, so we are very excited to be able to expand our outreach with a second helicopter," said Kim Wessels, a certified flight nurse with Midwest MedAir.

The company's flight service operates 24 hours every day of the year, ferrying critical care, high-risk pregnancy and trauma patients to hospitals as far west as Denver and east to Omaha. Fire departments also rely on Midwest MedAir to rush accident and disaster victims to the appropriate hospitals.

The Hastings-based helicopter is a "state-of-the-art craft," with up-to-date avionics and navigation equipment and the capability to fly in some types of inclement weather if necessary.

Midwest MedAir helicopters can carry up to two patients at a time, although most flights include just one passenger and three crew members: a pilot, a certified flight nurse and a paramedic.

Employees must have extensive critical care and trauma experience in order to work the flights, and many come from backgrounds in emergency room or intensive care unit facilities. All of the company's pilots have military flight experience.

Midwest MedAir hired expanded its crew of flight nurses, medics and pilots to accommodate the new base, although most crew members will still put in hours in both Hastings and North Platte, Wessels said.

"To have two choppers with one company in the state is very unique. We're fortunate to cover as much ground as we do, and this will only help our coverage," said Shawn Clark, Midwest MedAir flight paramedic.

Along with their on-call duties, Midwest MedAir staff keep themselves up to date on medical training, and host lectures and training for medical staff across the state. They plan to augment those services now that their Hastings flight base is up and running.

The company also plans to establish relationships with rural fire departments around Hastings and Grand Island to train crews to prepare a landing zone for the chopper in case it responds to an emergency in a rural area.

"There are some small towns that don't have the ability to transport a trauma patient to a trauma center in a timely manner. We are hoping our services will get a higher quality of care to those patients sooner," Clark said.

Midwest Medical's ground transportation units work in tandem with the flight crews to ferry patients to their destination, especially if weather conditions force the flight crews to stay grounded.

The company's two helicopters will be dispatched to areas closest to their bases, but if the company gets two calls at the same time, the two choppers can back each other up.

"There may be some instances when our Hastings chopper goes to western Nebraska and our North Platte chopper covers this area," Wessels said. "It all depends on the needs of the patients and the number of calls we get."

Midwest Medical responded to 30,000 ambulance calls and more than 400 emergency helicopter calls last year across the state.

Wessels said that the company considered several locations including Hastings for the placement of its second helicopter, many of which officials are keeping on their radar for possible future hubs.

However, the company's good relationships with area medical facilities and the central location of Hastings made the move to the city a sensible choice. Midwest MedAir staff have been making calls to area hospitals and care providers, as well as facilities in western Nebraska, to let them know that the company's flight services have expanded.

"The more we can interact face to face with area hospitals, the better we will be able to work as a team when we have to care for a patient. We are eager to establish those relationships," Wessels said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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