AirMed now on-site in Evanston four days a week

An AirMed helicopter prepares to land at Evanston Regional Hospital Thursday morning. The brand-new aircraft, which cost $7.5 million, will be on-site in Evanston four days a week to serve Uinta County. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — Thanks to a partnership between Evanston Regional Hospital and the University of Utah’s AirMed service, those in need of emergency health care will now have a state-of-the-art AirMed aircraft available on-site four days a week. 

The new $7.5 million aircraft will be on-site at Evanston Regional Hospital on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to provide emergency transport to hospitals in Utah and will be completely dedicated to ERH and local ambulance and fire crews. The other three days of the week the helicopter will be based in Park City, a 20-minute flight away. 

The new aircraft is an EC145e Lite. According to AirMed pilot Ken Jones, this helicopter is larger than previous AirMed aircraft. Jones said this one can carry more weight to accommodate larger patients if needed. The EC145e Lite is also able to fly at higher altitudes, which allows for on-site pick-ups from locations such as the Uinta Mountains that previous aircraft may not have been able to reach. 

There are two engines for redundancy, and the aircraft also carries military-grade night vision goggles for the pilot’s use. 

Described by AirMed flight paramedic and Park City base coordinator Wade Spivey as having the equivalent of an ICU and an ER on board, the new aircraft is equipped with extra oxygen, 12-lead EKG monitoring, a ventilator for intubated patients, more than 50 different medications, equipment for chest tube placement and more. The standard crew consists of the pilot, a nurse and a paramedic, but there is room on board for a maximum of six people, which means a respiratory therapist can be on board when needed and, in some situations, a family member could also fly along with the patient, though that is up to the crew when considering safety. 

Spivey and ERH CEO Jeremy Davis said the development is a huge step forward for healthcare in Evanston and surrounding areas. The helicopter can fly to the scene of accidents and injuries, getting patients to trauma centers faster and improving patient outcomes. Spivey said it will also offer a huge advantage to cardiac patients. “With heart attacks, time is muscle. We’ll be able to get cardiac patients to a cath lab in Utah, which ERH doesn’t have, more quickly. That can save lives.” 

Davis said those involved went through two years of data to examine patterns in calls for transfers to Utah facilities. The AirMed craft will be in Evanston on the days of the week those calls have been the highest over the past two years. Davis said moving forward those days could change if it is determined other days of the week would be more beneficial for the community. 

When asked about limitations of the aircraft in difficult weather conditions, Spivey said, “We have a very intense safety culture, and we go by FAA rules. We look at every situation carefully and we won’t send it up if it’s not safe.” However, AirMed does have fixed-wing airplanes that can land at the Evanston Airport if needed in situations it’s unsafe for a helicopter to fly. Spivey and Jones said local emergency crews are able to call and together they can come up with the best solution to get patients needed care as quickly as possible. 

Spivey said the University of Utah is a nonprofit facility and therefore AirMed works with any and all insurance companies when transport is needed, which is also a plus for the community. He said some emergency air transport services are profit-driven and will charge tens of thousands of dollars, and often do not have working relationships with insurance providers. 

In addition to emergency transports, the new aircraft will also be available to assist in local search and rescue efforts in Uinta County and Summit County, Utah. Spivey said the existing working relationships built between first responders in both counties allow for a great deal of communication and resource sharing already, and this is a great additional resource. 

Davis said, “This is a monumental occasion for this hospital. For traumas and the complex medical issues rural communities like ours face, we’re dependent on out-of-area partners. A big part of quality is speed and time is of the essence. We’ve been working on this for a couple of years and it’s really exciting to have it come to fruition. We can’t thank the University of Utah enough for working with us to have a crew here to serve Uinta County.”

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