Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mayo Clinic adds wings to its transport fleet

Mayo Clinic's scope of operations is expected to roughly double by 2034 as part of the ambitious $6.5 billion Destination Medical Center project. Flying just below the radar of that explosive growth — up to 45,000 new employees in Rochester — is an increased need for medical transportation.

There's where the shiny, new Beechcraft King Air 350C parked in Mayo's renovated hangar at the Rochester International Airport comes into play.

Mayo recently unveiled a customized $8.5 million plane to transport high-risk patients to its facilities around the country. It's the only such medical plane operating in the Midwest and the specialized 52-inch cargo door — meant to accommodate stretchers — is believed to be the only one in existence in the Lower 48 states.

The plane is expected to make about 400 transports this year and has already airlifted patients to Rochester from Montana, Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, among other sites. However, Mayo estimates that 80 percent of its patients live within 500 miles of Rochester.

"It's getting the Mayo level of ICU and emergency care to patients quicker," says flight nurse Lisa Jelinek, one of 22 Mayo employees to staff the Rochester-based fixed-wing aircraft. "When we walk into a patient's room, their faces light up when they see the Mayo shield."

Mayo claimed the coveted top spot in the last U.S. World & News Reports Best Hospital rankings, which were announced in August. John Noseworthy, Mayo President and CEO, said at the time that Mayo has "the most trusted name in health care." The Beechcraft plane was activated just a few weeks later and figures to help expand the reach of Mayo's brand.


The addition of a fixed-wing plane adds to the Mayo One fleet that was created in 1984, according to Dr. Scott Zietlow, medical director and chairman of the Mayo Clinic Medical Transport Board. The program began with a single helicopter based on Rochester, but now boasts four — two in Rochester, one in Mankato and one in Eau Claire. Each costs an estimated $10-12 million while functioning as an airborne trauma unit.

The Mayo One helicopters are often sent out to the scene of serious accidents, transporting about 2,000 patients annually in situations where time is of the essence, Dr. Zietlow said.

While those helicopters have quick response times and can land very close to the scene, they have distance limitations and are often unable to fly in wet or windy conditions due to safety concerns.

The Beechcraft plane helps fill a specialized niche with a max range of 1,500 miles and wings that can be "flexed" to shed ice accumulation, which Mayo spokesman Glenn Lyden says makes it perfect for operating during the region's frigid winter months. There's also an infrared camera equipped on the nose of the plane to further enhance visibility in the case of rain or snow.

Dr. Zietlow says this plane could be the first of many, with one eventually stationed at Mayo campuses in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida.

"I would anticipate, if this continues to go well, we would add additional airframes that would be something like this in Arizona and Florida," Dr. Zietlow said. "Right now, we would not think of something transoceanic because that brings on a whole new set of challenges."

The plane can utilize small, regional airports thanks to a minimum runway distance of just 5,000 feet. Mayo officials are currently working with the FAA in hopes of reducing that standard to just 4,000 feet, according to pilot Thomas Grandouiller, which would create even more possibilities.

Mayo had previously contracted with a vendor to have access to a jet, but it wasn't frequently used and required more coordination. The leased plane will be staffed every day, including an on-site mechanic, and able to depart within 30 minutes of receiving a transport request.

"The volume of patients needing transportation to Rochester is increasing," Dr. Zietlow said, noting insurance is expected to cover the cost of any air transport deemed medically necessary. "We're a very fortunate organization in that almost no other health care organization has these sort of transport options between ground, rotor wing and fixed wing. The goal is to match the medical team with the needs of the patient and transport them to the most appropriate facility in the most cost-effective way possible."


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