8 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, August 6, 1997
EMERGENCY , ICINE
SURVIVAL FLIGHT: BEST IN THE NATION
IN TIlE MOMENT OF AN EMERGENCY TIlE
ONLY TlING BETWEEN LIFE ANI)I)EAT III
IS SPEED ...
DIY PETF MYRPlS
I)AIL STAFF REPORTER
T hese days, medicine is a function of speed.
The University Medical Center is no longer
simply among the best, It's also the fastest.
The Medical Center maintains what has recent-
ly been judged one of the two best medical trans-
port systems in the country. Its helicopters, its
ambulances, and its fixed-wing program - in this
case, a Citation II jet airplane - have all been
accredited as being superior to a test of national
"We need to get off the ground in five or 10
minutes," said flight nurse Barbara Reeber. "It
depends on the type of call. If it's a site call, we
have to get up to the fourth floor (helipad) right
The other sort of call, the call to pick up a
patient or to deliver organs to another hospital, will
afford them more time, she said. For that sort of
call, they have 10 minutes to get into the air.
They're the blitz troops of modern medicine.
The nurses forgo traditional garb and instead wear
blue and gold jumpsuits. They have top-of-the-line
equipment. In step with the University's academ-
ic mission, their techniques are always cuttig-
The helicopter and jet program together are
known as Survival Flight. Last year, about 1,500
flights were made.
They can get to Lansing or Albion in under 30
MAKING THE GRADEI
Getting accredited at all is rare.
"There are over 250 helicopter and a few
more fixed-wing programs," said Eileen Frazer,
executive director of the Commission on
Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems,
the only American accrediting agency for emer-
gency flights. Only about 40 of those 250 heli-
copter operations. are accredited, said Frazer,
along with only about 65 percent of the fixed-
To be accredited, each program must meet hun-
dreds of requirements.Thenumber and training of
personnel, style and configuration of vehicles, qual-
ity of on-board equipment, maintenance standards
and morality ratesare all checked by CAMTS.
The program'is voluntary, and in most states,
accrditation has no legal standing. Michigan is
the exceptionto this rule. The Michigan State
Department of Health recently passed new regula-
tions requiring that all hospital transportation sys-
as receive CAMTS accredit
Fazer doubts that that will1
tMichigan actually has s(
ms," she said. Already, two
als with helicopter program
se excellent pro-
(the other six hos-
have met the stan-
A HOSPII'AI:S HOSPITAL
The University's three-fold transport program
as built on the need to deal with the problems
iat other hospitals couldn't handle. The
nisersity's Medical center has recently been
emed by U.S. News & World Report to be the
st in Michigan and the 10th best in the nation.
Seven hospitals exist sithin the complex.
Its size and profusion of specialists haie
made it a place where patients are sent
when other hospitals fall short.
The elaborate transport system is used
primarily to pick up patients from these
other hospitals. Patients often need what
only the University Medical Center can
Peter Forster, an associate hospital
administrator swho helps direct the medical
transport program, said that "another hos-
pital, particularly a small hospital that
doesn't have a lot of facilities," simply
can't handle critical-status patients.
"Some hospitals in Michigan have only
one doctor on duty at night Forster said
Critical patients, he said, simply cannot be
handled by one doctor working alone.
Children are among the most frequent
fliers, especially the youngest. "We base a
level one neonatal service," Forster said.
About one-third of Survival Flight's
patients are children, Reeber said.
This communing with other hospitals is
the primary reason that the hospital main-
tains its own jet. A hospital jet is rare; Frazer
Flight nurse Barbara Reeber stands outside of one s
year around 1,500 Survival Flights were made.
"(Medical jet programs are) usually private-type
services that are run out of airports." Frazer said. She
said that large hospitals tend to "have referral patterns
that bring in patients from distant places"
The Unisersity medical transport program pri-
marily moses incoming patients from other hospi-
tals, but also handles organ donations and can go
on-site to the accident locations.
"About 15 percent (of the flights) are scene
calls, and that changes with the seasons" Reeber
said. "There are probably more in the summer."
The helicopters travel distances of up to 150
miles, Forster said. "Wecan cover the whole lower
peninsula of Michigan."
The jet, of course, can go much further than the
helicopters. The jet flies out of the Willow Run
landitg strip, unlike the helicopter serviceswhich
work directly from the hospital's three helipads.
The jet can make organ runs to Chicago and return
before the organs have lost viability.
The University's expansive ambulance emer-
gency serv ice also operates directly from the
MORE THAN THE AVERAGE NURSE
Every flight has at least two flight nurses in
addition to the pilot. To become a flight nurse, a
registered nurse must have a minimum of five
years of experience in traumatic medicine, work-
ing with both critical pediatrics and adults. All are
also trained as paramedics.
At the University, the flight nurses are more than
sufficiently qualified, Reeber said.
"I'd say that the average flight nurse has been
here for 20 years,' Reeber said.
the University's Survival Flight helicopters. Last
Graphc by SHARAT RAJU/Daly
Occasionally, one of the University's 40 resi-
dents in the traumatic medicine program will go
cn a Might and assist the flight nurses.
The two helicopters in use are on a five-year
lease that will expire next year. Hospital adminis-
trators are presently looking at replacements.
Larger helicopters could be useful, Reeber said.
'We could go to scene calls with extra staff
extra crea," she said. With more crew member*
the flight teams could handle more patients. At
present, each helicopters can carry only one criti-
ally injured patient.
"You can't manage a critical with one nurse'
This limitation arose last week near Albion
when a cataclysmic traffic accident killed 10 peo-
ple and left two others in critical condition.
Because of the space constraints, University flight
crews had to refuse officials who pressured them
to take more of the injured.
With more staff and with larger helicopter
the Unisersity flight team could handle more
ALL Al A HIGH aPRICEs
As awith everything else in American medicine,
the cost of keeping Survival Flight is high. The
program's annual budget is $5 million, said
Forster. It is, however, self-sufficient.
"We bill patients who are transported or patients
who need organs transported," said Forster. "F
our helicopters, we charge $2,000 plus $27 p
The average cost of a ride on Survival Flight is