The new Air Link air ambulance service at Medical Center of the Rockies has found nearly daily need for its services.
Since launching in March, the Air Link helicopter at Medical Center of the Rockies has averaged a flight a day. The helicopter's service area currently spans Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, with plans to serve Wyoming this summer.
The new red-and-white B3 helicopter took flight in late March and has flown patients throughout the region, averaging one patient transport a day. Projections call for the helicopter to make 300 patient transports a year.
"We have exceeded our expectations as far as launching the program," said Debbie Delk, Air Link's clinical director and director of MCR's Emergency Department. "We're very pleased."
Most flights transported patients from other hospitals to MCR, while some trips airlifted injured patients from emergency scenes. The helicopter recently made a transport during the High Park Fire.
The helicopter is capable of reaching altitudes of 23,000 feet, allowing it to fly into difficult areas of the mountains, including Rocky Mountain National Park. There, hikers and climbers sometimes need rapid emergency medical assistance and fast delivery to a hospital.
Coverage area spans states
The helicopter's area of coverage is contained within a 200-mile radius from MCR, as far as the areas of Rapid City to the north; Craig, in western Colorado; North Platte, Neb., to the east; and south of Pueblo. The coverage area also slices through the northwestern edge of Kansas. The helicopter is expected to service Wyoming this summer.
In January, when the announcement was made that Air Link at Medical Center of the Rockies would begin service in two months, skeptical eyebrows were raised among a few observers in northern Colorado. The question was whether another air ambulance service was needed. After all, emergency medical helicopters already fly out of Denver and Greeley.
Emergency medical experts and senior management at the health system had discussed the need for an air ambulance for almost a decade. At some times, the discussion was little more than daydreaming out loud; at other times, a tentative stride forward was balanced by a cautious step backward.
Operating an air ambulance program is far from inexpensive, considering the cost to purchase and maintain a helicopter and to pay experts to staff the program 24/7. In this case, the service has 11 highly trained and experienced paramedics and nurses, four pilots and one mechanic.
The thought that lingered in many minds in the two years while planning was underway for MCR in the mid-2000s was for the Loveland hospital to be a hub for emergency medical air transportation. MCR is centrally located in the region and offers top-notch emergency, trauma, cardiac, and other specialized care.
Timing was right
With those thoughts in mind, MCR was designed with two helicopter landing pads: one on the ground near the ER and the other on the roof with rapid access to surgery suites. Eventually, the time would become right to contract for and operate an air ambulance.
The decision to move ahead in 2012 sprang, in part, from a pressing need for an additional emergency air service to meet the population growth of the region. Regional West Medical Center, Scottsbluff, Neb., also saw the need, even though it operates the original Air Link service. So RWMC, a partner in MCR, joined MCR in establishing Air Link at Medical Center of the Rockies.
In addition, the need for another air ambulance -- particularly one that can fly at high altitudes -- was evident in the fact that the nearby high mountains tend to pose challenges for most air ambulances in the region.
But not so with the B3 helicopter. It was the type of helicopter to first land on the summit of Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain. So the altitude of Colorado and Wyoming mountains should create little difficulty, if any.
Meanwhile, a major benefit of the service has yet to be realized. With the creation of University of Colorado Health, closer ties will be made among MCR, PVH and University of Colorado Hospital, as well as Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs when voters approve its merger into UCHealth in August.
With those closer ties may come the need to air transport critically ill patients from one hospital to another that offers more appropriate and higher level of treatment capabilities for patients.
"We're looking forward to growing our medical transport service throughout the region," said Dr. Timothy Hutchinson, Air Link at Medical Center of the Rockies medical director. "We are proud to offer a program that is rooted in safety, quality, positive outcomes, and evidence-based protocols and patient care."
University of Colorado Health employees dedicate themselves to providing patients and other customers with world-class care and service. Outside organizations recognize that, calling University of Colorado Health's hospitals some of the best in Colorado and even the best in the nation. Some of those accolades are listed below:
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