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Life Link III to station medical helicopter at Rice on trial basis

WILLMAR -- Life Link III medical helicopters are likely to become a more familiar sight in the skies over Willmar in upcoming months.

The medical transportation service is basing a helicopter and crew at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar on a six-month trial basis, starting this week. The helicopter and crew will be stationed here during the daytime three days a week -- Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

If it goes well, it could become a permanent arrangement, said June Boie, director of emergency services at Rice Hospital.

"We feel it's going to be good for our community and the surrounding community," she said.

Life Link III, whose headquarters are in Minneapolis, already has medical helicopters based nearby in Alexandria and Hutchinson that respond when patients need air transport to a tertiary hospital. But it can take 20 minutes for one of these regional helicopters to arrive in Willmar, which can result in a delay in transporting the patient, Boie said.

"If they're parked on our roof, we don't have that time delay," she said.

One frequent use for helicopter transport is for heart attack patients who need prompt treatment at a facility with a cardiac catheterization lab, Boie said. "Those minutes are precious."

Other cases that might require air transport include patients with severe traumatic injuries, as well as some obstetrics cases. From 2009 through the end of 2010, 182 patients were transported by helicopter from Rice Hospital, Boie said.

One measure of the success of the trial project with Life Link III will be whether average response times can be further shaved down. Volume and staff satisfaction with the arrangement will also be tracked.

For Rice Hospital, there may be some streamlining in how the helicopter service is activated, Boie said. "The advantage to us is we only have to call one number."

Monday, Tuesday and Friday were selected during the trial phase because these are historically the three busiest days of the week for air transport in the region.

From the rooftop helipad at Rice Hospital, the Life Link III helicopter and its crew will also be available to respond to other emergencies in the region if needed.

Life Link III is a nonprofit consortium whose members include nine hospitals and health care organizations in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Duluth and Eau Claire, Wis.

The organization provides critical care, advanced life support and basic life support via ground, helicopter and airplane ambulances. Its ground operations are based in Minneapolis. It has a second ground facility and 911 base in St. Croix Falls, Wis., and helicopter bases in Alexandria, Anoka, Hibbing and Hutchinson in Minnesota and Rice Lake in Wisconsin.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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