KANKAKEE — Emergency patients in Kankakee County will soon have greater access to lifesaving assistance, thanks to a partnership between Presence St. Mary's and Superior Ambulance Service.
Beginning in December, Superior Air Transport Services will house an Air Med1 helicopter at the Greater Kankakee Airport. The helicopter is set to be unveiled at the airport Thursday morning, and will transport trauma patients and those with time-sensitive health issues to hospitals equipped to handle those specific cases. The partnership has been over a year in the works.
"When I came here, we reevaluated, we looked to see where our gaps were and what that next level was," said Presence St. Mary's EMS Coordinator Dave Nagel, who has been in his position for four years. "We saw that even though we do a great job at patient care, there were still needs for those folks who need special care, like burn patients, Level 1 trauma patients."
A Level 1 hospital can handle all types of traumatic injuries, something not all hospitals have the personnel or equipment to do. For trauma patients, that means a helicopter ride to a hospital in Chicago. The helicopters — one to start operation in December and another sometime in 2018 — fly around 135 mph, cutting down on time and greatly increasing a patient's chance of survival. Before partnering with Superior, St. Mary's had to request medical helicopters from Joliet or Chicago, often losing precious time.
The new helicopters won't be limited to transports between hospitals. Crews also will transport people from accident scenes.
"These helicopters are going to be a big help for the fire departments in the community as well, backing them up at scenes like industrial accidents and car accidents and out in the middle of nowhere when you get a farm accident or someone 30 minutes from the hospital is having a heart attack," said Nagel. "That brings those capabilities."
Each Air Med1 is staffed by a critical care paramedic and a critical care nurse. For Superior, which serves communities across Illinois and Northwest Indiana, Kankakee was the perfect choice after the company opened its first suburban helicopter base in DuPage around 10 years ago.
"Kankakee is a great operational base for us to go into Northwest Indiana," Superior Vice President Mary Franco said. "We have a very large operation in Northwest Indiana and we've been looking for a second base in the Chicago metropolitan area for the past few years. This is a great location for us to serve our existing partners and expand our business."
Last year, St. Mary's transitioned to contracting Superior ambulances instead of driving its own, part of a growing trend that saves hospitals money. On days when the weather prevents flying or all the helicopters are in use, Superior guarantees ambulance ground transport.
The number of emergency flights varies from month to month, from weeks with two or three patients transports to weeks without any. Soon, with these new helicopters, those patients will have a greater chance of recovery.
"Aligned with our region's outstanding set of fire and police departments, Superior is bringing a tremendous lifesaving resource right in our backyard," said Presence St. Mary's Hospital President Chris Shride. "While it's a resource none of us desire to need, for many families across our shared communities, it will be life changing."