Sunday, March 14, 2021

MercyOne deploys larger, faster helicopter

SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- A new helicopter is transferring patients to MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center.

The new MercyOne Air Med chopper, a two-engine Bell 429 with MercyOne's updated graphics painted on the sides, replaces the former Bell 407. 

The multimillion-dollar helicopter boasts a far more spacious interior, greater speed and a number of other bells and whistles the previous model did not have, including a special light to scare birds away.

"I had never seen this on a helicopter before," Air Med manager Nik Gonzales said of the anti-bird lights. "The safety features are amazing on this."

The MercyOne Air Med program, operated by the helicopter services provider Air Methods, had been flying the Bell 407 for a little more than a year before they received the Bell 429 around Thanksgiving. The MercyOne healthcare system has upgraded its fleet of medical helicopters in Iowa, with a total of five new helicopters -- one in Mason City, one in Knoxville, one in Des Moines, one in Sioux City, plus a spare. 

The Bell 407 was far less roomy than the new 429 -- during a flight in the old helicopter, the crew couldn't reach a patient's legs because of the tight space. 

"We have full access to our patients in our (new) helicopter. Before, we had basically from the chest up, now we have head-to-toe access, we can move around in the helicopter," said MercyOne flight nurse Ethan Neff. "If we have something that needs to be done in the air, we can do that now, instead of having to make sure everything's done on the ground before we head out." 

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The Bell 429 is also considerably faster -- able to reach speeds of around 150 miles per hour -- and is somewhat quieter and more comfortable for the patient. The speed is a key improvement over the previous machine. 

"The goal of ours is to reduce the time out of hospital. So, normally, with ground transport, you're looking at maybe an hour between hospitals, versus flight, it's usually about 15 minutes to a half hour transport," Neff said. "So, reducing that time from one hospital to another, it helps to reduce any kind of chance that something happens." 

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