Medical helicopter launches at Valley View Hospital |

Medical helicopter launches at Valley View Hospital

Caitlin Causey
Post Independent Contributor
The Air Medical crew
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

This spring, Glenwood Springs has a new crew of heroes.

Pilots Jack Montou and Jason Foote, paramedic John Bingham and base manager Kerry Evens are part of a Classic Air Medical team who have begun transporting local patients in crises by air to regional hospitals where they can receive further treatment. The group began operations at Valley View Hospital on April 25.

Making these transports possible is a dramatic recent addition to the hospital’s helipad on Blake Avenue: a red and white Bell 407 helicopter. The aircraft, managed by its round-the-clock, on-call crew, is equipped to transport patients at a moment’s notice.

“When we get an emergency call from the hospital, our team’s goal is to respond in 10 minutes or less to make first contact and assume care of the patient. From there, we try to be lifting in no more than 30 minutes,” Evens said.

Once the helicopter takes off, a flight to a Denver hospital takes approximately 55 minutes in optimum conditions, and a trip to Grand Junction lasts only 32 minutes. For patients with life-threatening injuries or illnesses who cannot be fully treated at Valley View, this rapid transport to larger medical facilities can make all the difference.

“During a conversation about outreach and collaboration with other hospitals in the area, a group of our senior leadership realized that part of the opportunity we have to get referrals to many of our sub-specialists is to be able to have a helicopter based at Valley View to facilitate more expedited transport,” said Valley View Executive Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Al Saliman, who has been working closely with the new air crew. “Without a helicopter based here, it automatically builds in another delay.”

Before April 25, if an individual lived in a more remote location and needed air transport to Valley View, a helicopter from another area hospital had to be summoned for assistance. Additionally, if a patient had a serious emergency that Valley View could not address in-house, transportation would have to be arranged by the receiving hospital. This inevitably meant a longer wait time for lifesaving care.

“This is especially relevant for services like interventional cardiology and neurosurgery,” Saliman said, “where further delay leads to more difficulty with outcomes.”

The hospital reached out to four air transport companies to determine which one might be a good fit for a partnership with Valley View. With an established reputation and excellent recommendations from the hospital’s regional partners, Classic Air Medical emerged as the right choice.

Started in 1988 with just one helicopter, one pilot and a medical crew of two, Classic Air Medical began by serving the ill and injured of the Lake Powell region. Now headquartered in Woods Cross, Utah, the company has various bases scattered throughout the Western United States — in Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico.

Evens, who serves not only as the Valley View base’s manager but also as a nurse, noted that Classic Air Medical has made an extra effort to place the most qualified professionals here.

“With this base being at a hospital, the company has tried to place specifically ICU-experienced nurses and paramedics with many years in the field in this location,” she said. “We’re emphasizing an especially high level of care here. Our other bases do a lot more work in rural settings, but here we want to focus on and maximize the level of medical care.”

From its new base at Valley View, Classic Air Medical may also respond to special search-and-rescue missions in the surrounding areas if needed. In the next few months, the crew is also expecting the delivery of a new Bell 407 GX helicopter — similar to the one currently in use, but equipped with additional features that will allow a pilot to fly in low-visibility scenarios, among other benefits.

“It’s actually the only type of helicopter in production right now that utilizes the aviation equipment that a lot of larger fixed-wing aircrafts use,” said pilot Montou. “So this new one will have everything from a back-up camera to an entire 8- to 10-inch screen that will have a moving terrain map. With a screen like that, even if a pilot got into an area with low visibility, they could still see valleys, mountains or be able to go through canyons.”

Now that Glenwood Springs residents have access to the vital service that Classic Air Medical provides, many are wondering about cost — both to the individual and the community at large.

“Our company offers a membership plan for $60 a year for families whose health insurance does not cover air transport. This eliminates out-of-pocket expense entirely if services are utilized,” Evens said.

“And from the hospital’s standpoint,” Saliman added, “there is no investment on our part as Valley View. This is a partnership we have created with Classic Air Medical, as they manage their base here and utilize our helipad. Basically, it all boils down to better patient care — and we are looking forward to this additional service we will now be able to offer.”

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