About a hundred times each month, AirCare staff at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics get the call: A patient at a community hospital or an accident scene needs urgent help from the state's most comprehensive medical center.
For more than 25 years, AirCare has answered that call, saving lives and, in the process, supporting Iowa's network of first responders.
"Our department's mission is to improve emergency care in Iowa," says Eric Dickson, UI professor and head of emergency medicine. "That means delivering the highest level of care we can, and providing education and clinical experience to our community partners. We like to call the AirCare service our rotary-wing county extension office."
AirCare operates two helicopters, one based in Iowa City, the other in Waterloo. Flight crews can reach patients within a 120-mile radius twice as fast as ground-based ambulances.
The service delivers approximately 1,200 patients to UI Hospitals and Clinics each year. About the same number arrive at the helipad atop the hospital's Roy Carver Pavilion via choppers from other facilities.
AirCare crews include a pilot and specially trained nurses or paramedics. The UI service also dispatches a physician on some flights—it's the state's only air medical system with doctors on board.
In some cases, the crew heads straight to an accident site. In others, they pick up accident victims who've been transported to nearby facilities, or community hospital patients who need more advanced care.
When not on emergency calls, the crews offer education for professionals and the public alike. During prom and graduation season, for example, they partner with communities on drunk-driving awareness programs. Year round, they help local paramedics, firefighters, and physicians polish their skills.
"Approximately 80 percent of Iowa's EMS workforce are volunteers," says Dickson. "They are a critical part of Iowa's EMS system, and we are dedicated to serving them through AirCare and other clinical and educational services offered by the department."
That goal inspired another initiative—a 40-foot bus outfitted as a treatment and training facility. The Mobile Emergency Treatment Center will accompany events like RAGBRAI (an annual cross-state bike ride), travels to communities beyond AirCare's reach, and joins the helicopter crew for educational programming.
"We have great facilities here, but these programs let us reach all the way across Iowa," Dickson says.
AirCare Air and Mobile Critical Care Service
Department of Emergency Medicine
EMS Learning Resources Center
UI Hospitals and Clinics
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