Saturday, November 02, 2013

Benefis upgrades to new Mercy Flight helicopter

Benefis Health System unveiled its new Mercy Flight helicopter Friday, which officials say will not only improve patients’ safety in transport, but also the crew trying to save their lives. 

 “Just as medicine has advanced over the last decade, so has aviation,” said Laura Goldhahn, president of Benefis Hospitals. “Patients need us where they need us. And we need to be able to get to them and get to them quickly and safely.”

The 1,300 horsepower Eurocopter features many advances in terms of power, safety and accessibility, according to Scott Schandelson, chief flight nurse for Mercy Flight. For one thing, the twin-engine Eurocopter replaces the single-engine Eurocopter Benefis has been using since 2003. In May, Benefis upgraded its fixed-wing air ambulance to a Cessna Mustang medical jet.

“The changes that Mercy Flight has gone through this year is amazing,” Schandelson said.

Benefis did not release the cost of the Eurocopter but spokeswoman Karen Ogden said they are leasing it from Metro Aviation. She also said the funding comes from their general operational budget. On Metro Aviaton’s website, it states that Benefis has been a client since 2000.

According to Controller, the aviation trade publication that lists single- and twin-engine piston aircraft for sale online, the model Eurocopter Benefis uses is listed between $2.5 million to $4 million, depending on the year and location of the aircraft.

Some of the other features include second-generation engines that allow for enhanced weight-carrying capacity and offer more torque, making it ideal for the mountainous terrain the flight crew often navigates. There is room for one additional crew member and a rear-loading patient area (instead of along the side) that provides smoother loading for often critical patients, Schandelson said.

Flight nurse Brian Schreuth said he appreciates having more room for him and paramedics on board to work with a patient and is glad to have a separation area between the pilot and paramedics, which will improve the safety of everyone as they try to navigate the skies while attending to patients.

“They can focus on flying with no distractions and we can focus on the patient in the back here,” Schreuth said.

The new helicopter is also equipped with terrain avoidance systems and XM weather radio. Previously, when landing in smaller airfields or in remote locations, crew members had no way of knowing if there was other aircraft in the area, according to flight paramedic Mark Long.

Pilot Tim Swingle said in the previous helicopter if the weather was potentially hazardous, the crew didn’t fly. But with the new satellite weather mapping, the crew can navigate around storm systems, if possible.

“The process we went through to select this aircraft was quite good,” Schandelson said.

Mercy Flight will fly close to 1,000 missions in the next year, having to land in all kinds of different places in different weather conditions. Goldhahn said having the most up-to-date equipment is crucial to being able to respond to and serve patients.

That just provides the safety and the upgrade and the power that our crew really needs,” Goldhahn said. “(Safety) is always on our radar. We consider it at every step and every decision.”

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