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UMMC expands AirCare helicopter service with northern Mississippi base

Published on Friday, April 1, 2016

By: Ruth Cummins

The University of Mississippi Medical Center has expanded its AirCare fleet from two to three helicopters, stationing an additional aircraft at Golden Triangle Regional Airport in Columbus and improving access to critical care services to north Mississippi.

The helicopter became operational April 1. Additional bases are located at UMMC's main campus in Jackson and at Meridian.

“Our priority is getting care to the patient,” said Dr. Damon Darsey, associate professor of emergency medicine and medical director of the Mississippi Center for Emergency Services.

The Airbus helicopters, equipped to fly in marginal weather conditions, are supported by Mississippi's only Level 1 trauma care hospital, providing 24/7 in-house neurosurgical and critical-care coverage and total care for every aspect of injury.  The helicopters are paid for through UMMC's hospital patient-care activities, not from state tax dollars.

UMMC is leasing office and hangar space from Airbus at its GTR airport facility.

AirCare1 and 2 on the helipad located atop the Conerly Critical Care Hospital.
AirCare1 and 2 on the helipad located atop the Conerly Critical Care Hospital.

This advanced medical helicopter service brings the intensive care unit capabilities of an academic medical center to critically ill patients of all ages and backgrounds in every corner of Mississippi. It will allow more Mississippians, especially those in the northern region, to remain in state for tertiary, or highly specialized, care, said Jonathan Wilson, the Medical Center's chief administrative officer.

“Our program transports patients to any hospital in Mississippi, but the destination isn't the most important part,” Darsey said. “And this is about more than just helicopters. When we put in a new base, we're putting a piece of the Medical Center there to support the state of Mississippi in disaster and emergency response.”

“We have highly trained ambulance providers and great hospitals in this part of the state,” said Sam Marshall, AirCare base manager at the new location. “We're proud to be here to work with them.”

At least 16 full-time jobs and a number of part-time jobs will be created with the helicopter's addition, Marshall said. Those positions include four flight nurses, four paramedics, four pilots and two mechanics.

UMMC offers the only program whose service area is the entire state of Mississippi, Wilson said. AirCare helicopters are equipped with a sophisticated weather radar autopilot system. “It allows us to fly when other helicopters are grounded,” he said.

“The model of flying someone to tertiary care is a model that works for some patients, but our model is different,” Darsey said. “We're bringing as much of the treatments that are available at large tertiary-care facilities as we can to the patient at bedside or roadside. We do this regardless of the cost or hurdles.”