Mercy Flight is updating its helicopter fleet with three new Bell choppers and benefiting from Washington approval to fly in bad weather under what are called instrument flight rules.
The medical care provider says it has borrowed $23 million to buy three new Bell 429 helicopters. They will eventually replace four older birds, which are getting expensive to maintain.
The new helicopters will go with a current 429. The first of the new helicopters will start showing up in late spring of next year.
The new flyers are faster than the current model and vibrate a little less. Assistant Medical Director Dr. Joshua Lynch says it is not just the machinery, but the skill of the personnel on board.
"Of equal importance is the medical crew that works in the back and the training and the expertise of the folks that work in the back of these helicopters far surpasses anyone else that you'll find in an ambulance," says Lynch. "So combining speed with medical expertise and true critical care being offered in the back of these helicopters is really the benefit that we offer."
Mercy Flight says the copters can provide emergency room care on the way to a hospital helipad, even giving blood transfusions to two patients at a time, while carrying others who need less care. That means a patient has a better chance of making it or being ready for surgery upon arrival at a hospital.
Air Medical Operations Director Donald Trzepacz recalls the human element of carrying patients across the sky, like two young girls.
"After they had been involved in a very, very major accident and as we transported those two girls to Children's Hospital, ironically, they had suffered some very significant head injuries, had we not provided that transport by air that day, it's very, very clear that both of those girls would not have made it," says Trzepacz, "Just four months later, those little girls played out on our helipad here with my children."
Most local hospitals have helipads on the buildings, including new pads at Mercy Hospital and Oishei Children's Hospital.