Helicopter on helipad.
UMMC's AirCare flies from bases in Jackson, Meridian, Columbus and Greenwood.
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AirCare embarks on collaborative program with new aviation partner

Published on Tuesday, January 21, 2020

By: Ruth Cummins

AirCare, the University of Mississippi Medical Center program using the state’s most advanced medical helicopter transports, made its maiden flight in February 1996 and has since served almost 30,000 patients from all corners of Mississippi and flown more than a million miles.

A cornerstone of health care at UMMC, AirCare has recently established a new, collaborative program with an aviation partner that will help enhance the helicopter operation’s clinical, research and education expertise.

Med-Trans, a leading national medical transport provider in its 36th year, will focus on the business side of the program, including providing three of four helicopters, pilots, equipment and maintenance services.

AirCare flies throughout the state from bases in Greenwood, Meridian, Columbus and Jackson. UMMC owns AirCare 1, the helicopter that operates out of the Jackson base.

Med-Trans has relationships with health systems and medical centers in 26 states and operates from more than 95 bases, and its 1,200 employees make a difference in the lives of patients in hundreds of communities.

Portrait of Damon Darsey

“In the last six or seven years, AirCare has experienced a dramatic increase in our research and education missions in addition to our traditional clinical transport mission,” said Dr. Damon Darsey, associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics. UMMC is the state’s only academic medical center, housing the state’s only Level I trauma center and Level IV neonatal intensive care unit, the highest levels possible for both, and the only hospital dedicated solely for children, and the only organ and tissue transplant programs.

“Med-Trans is an aviation partner that can help us match our aviation innovation and service to the clinical advances we have experienced,” Darsey said. “It’s more than transporting a patient or flying life-saving care to wherever it’s needed. It’s improving the system of care to make sure that the right patient gets to the right place.

“We’re combining the expertise of a company that does this often with our academic medical center, and using the lessons they’ve learned to help improve health care in the state of Mississippi,” said Darsey, who also serves as medical director of the Mississippi Center for Emergency Services.

AirCare brings the intensive care unit capabilities of an academic medical center to critically ill patients of all ages and backgrounds, in every corner of the state. That could be the side of a road or interstate, another hospital, or the scene of a disaster, where seconds can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

All of AirCare’s clinical flight crew members are specially trained by UMMC’ s faculty on the latest life-saving techniques and provide care through advanced treatment protocols. All flights are staffed at minimum by a critical care paramedic, registered nurse and pilot.

Man and helicopter on helipad.
UMMC's AirCare brings the intensive care unit capabilities of an academic medical center to critically ill patients in every corner of the state.

AirCare is the only medical helicopter program in Mississippi that flies patients of any age, including infants. AirCare has the state’s only neonatal-trained air transport team, flying the most acutely ill newborns to the Medical Center for intensive care. It’s the only program utilizing isolettes for premature and ill infants.

And, AirCare is the only medical helicopter transport program operating in the state, and one of few in the nation, that stocks and administrates prothrombin complex concentrate to reverse anticoagulant drugs in the systems of patients with acute major bleeding. It is the sole program that carries whole blood, liquid plasma and an ultrasound.

Med-Trans is part of a much larger company, Global Medical Response, that transports more than five million patients annually by ground and air.

"Med-Trans is incredibly pleased to be partnering with AirCare to help further air medical transport services for patients in the state of Mississippi," said Brian Foster, vice president of operations for Med-Trans. "We are privileged to be able to provide the medically configured aircraft and the highly trained pilots and aircraft maintenance technicians who will work alongside the outstanding medical professionals at the University of Mississippi Medical Center."

Med-Trans will be in charge of customer billing. Med-Trans offers a comprehensive membership program through the AirMedCare Network that covers all members of a household for the entire self-pay portion of their air transportation services bill, including co-pays and deductibles.

Portrait of Stephen Houck

Med-Trans “will focus on the business of aviation and maintenance,” said Stephen Houck, director of the Mississippi Center for Emergency Services. “AirCare will focus on clinical care, research and education. “Together, we will leverage each other’s experience and resources to continue to develop an amazing program. You will still see the same type aircraft, the same clinicians, and we will continue to develop our protocols to make them among the most advanced in the industry.

“We want people to know that AirCare is here doing what we do best, serving our Mississippi communities through advanced pre-hospital medicine, education and research,” Houck said.

AirCare is part of the Mississippi Center for Emergency Services at UMMC, created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to expand the state’s ability to maintain medical services during unanticipated disasters and emergencies. It’s a clearinghouse for emergency communications in the state and a key provider of clinical and classroom training for first responders, public safety officials and other health care providers.

MCES in September 2018 broke ground on a new 20,000-square foot home that will combine all its services under one roof. The facility will provide a second Jackson-campus helipad for AirCare, which will still land on the roof of UMMC’s critical care hospital to deliver patients for treatment, but will be staffed and deployed from the MCES.

“We are doubling down on clinical care, education and research, and our partner will focus on the aviation side,” Darsey said. “Med-Trans will not only match our clinical expertise, but challenge us to do better.”