A medical transportation company has officially 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, supervises ambulance and wheelchair transportation services in Hastings and 12 other cities across Nebraska and western Iowa. It has been operating a single Midwest MedAir helicopter, based at North Platte Regional Airport, since 2010.
The Hastings Tribune reported that the company’s second chopper arrived at the Hastings Municipal Airport in January. The new 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 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.
Midwest MedAir helicopters can carry up to two patients at a time, although most flights involve 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 to work the flights; many of them have backgrounds in emergency rooms or intensive care units. All of the company’s pilots have military flight experience.
Midwest MedAir expanded its crew of flight nurses, medics and pilots to accommodate the new Hastings base. Most crew members will 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, a Midwest MedAir flight paramedic.
Along with their on-call duties, Midwest MedAir staff members keep up to date on medical training, and host lectures and training for medical staffs across the state. They plan to augment those services now that the 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 a chopper when one is dispatched 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,” Clark said. “We are hoping our services will get a higher quality of care to those patients sooner.”
Midwest Medical’s ground transportation units work in tandem with the flight crews to ferry patients to their destinations, 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 choppers can serve as backup for each other.
“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 the company considered several locations in addition to Hastings for its second helicopter, and officials are keeping those locations on their radar for possible future air ambulance hubs.
However, the company’s good relationships with area medical facilities and the central location of Hastings made that city a logical choice. Midwest MedAir staff members have been making calls to area hospitals and care providers, as well as to 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,” Wessels said. “We are eager to establish those relationships.”