When Minutes Matter

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

AirCare Brings UI Health Care to the Roadside and Bedside

Since its first flight in 1979, University of Iowa AirCare has flown over 3.5 million miles, and served more than 30,000 patients.  The UI Hospitals and Clinics helipad is Iowa's busiest, with about 2,500 takeoffs and landings every year.  Collaborating with 100 emergency medical services, fire, and law enforcement programs in the region, AirCare was the first Iowa-based air medical service to receive accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems. 

Onboard, the intensity is as high as the altitude with caregivers concentrating all efforts on a singly critical ill patient. Limited space and constant movement combine with severe urgency. "You add another degree of austerity" said Azeemuddin Ahmed, MD, MBA, Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine and AirCare Medical Director from 2005 to 2013. "You don't have four walls and a ceiling or good lighting. You can't carry all the drugs and equipment. It's a strenuous situation.

Joshua Stilley, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and current AirCare Medical Director agrees. "The level of energy, the noise and vibrations, make a one-hour flight feel like eight hours of shift time," he said. "Three flights in one shift is about the maximum for fatigue".

In spite of the stress, or maybe because of it, AirCare teams share extraordinary camaraderie. "Medical crews, pilots, mechanics and communicators are all vital pieces of the quality of care," said Ahmed, who flew for about 11 years as a resident and faculty flight physician. "You're participating with a group of people that make a big difference, and give the best care possible."

Back in 1979, AirCare was only the 11th EMS helicopter program in the country.  The success of the program led to AirCare 2 in Waterloo in 1988, In 2016, AirCare 3 was deployed in Dubuque.  AirCare can now reach any location in eastern Iowa and surrounding communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri, in under an hour.

The program has always been on the forefront of transport innovation, implementing state-of-the-art pediatric, stroke, and trauma protocols, among others. The future holds expanded medical capabilities, like video intubation, as well as further geographic extension.

On every flight, AirCare brings more than medical assistance - the reputation of UI Health Care rides along.  "We provide an elevated level of care as soon as we make contact," said Stilley.  "When AirCare lands, it's like the University of Iowa has arrived."