MedLink AIR

MedLink AIR is the emergency medical helicopter for Gundersen Health System. Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year MedLink AIR can be airborne in minutes. MedLink AIR has a service area encompassing a 150-mile radius of La Crosse, including communities throughout western Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota.

Transport

Criteria for requesting emergency air transport

Patient has suffered:

  • Penetration injury
  • Motor vehicle accident (MVA) and
    • Ejected from vehicle
    • Extrication required longer than 15 minutes
    • Estimated speed of the vehicles exceeded 45 mph
    • Patient was a pedestrian thrown more than 15 feet
  • Scalping or "degloving" injury
  • Fall from a height greater than 20 feet
  • Traumatic event with paralysis, amputation or near amputation
  • Burns over greater than 10 percent body surface or major burns of face, hands, feet or perineum

Additional conditions:

  • Complex cardiovascular or neurovascular conditions
  • Patient has other medical conditions (diabetes, COPD, CHF, etc.)
  • Advanced life support (ALS) required during transport and/or airway can’t be maintained
  • Land transport would be hazardous or delayed
  • Minimal out-of-hospital time is required

All transport requests for trauma are triaged by Gundersen emergency medicine physicians according to established American College of Surgeons (ACS) criteria for appropriateness. Emergency transport referrals are based solely on medical criteria, never on financial considerations.

Suggested indications for transport of infants

  • Any preterm baby weighing less than 1,500 grams
  • Newborns less than 32-34 weeks gestational age
  • Newborn not doing well for unknown reason
  • Newborns with:
    • Respiratory distress regardless of etiology
    • Symptomatic congestive heart failure or congenital heart disease
    • Signs or symptoms of sepsis or meningitis
    • Congenital anomalies
    • Seizures regardless of etiology
    • Major life-threatening surgical problems
    • Severe or persistent neonatal apnea
    • Signs of bleeding disorders

Neonatal transport services

Neonatal consultation and transport services are available 24/7. Depending on the patient’s need and weather conditions, transport may be provided by MedLink AIR helicopter or ground ambulance. Both are equipped with the necessary monitoring, environmental and ventilator support systems to meet the needs of the most critical infant.

Gundersen’s specially trained neonatal transport team includes:

  • Board-certified neonatologists/pediatric critical care physicians
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner/neonatal transport nurses/neonatal physician assistant
  • NICU respiratory therapist
  • Flight nurse or flight paramedic

The care of critically ill newborns is a team effort that begins in your facility. We provide specialized education to our regional hospitals on initial newborn resuscitation (NRP) and stabilization for transport (STABLE).

Requests

MedLink AIR interfacility requests

All hospital-to-hospital transfers require physician-to-physician communication. Once that occurs, other personnel may act on the physician’s behalf in requesting MedLink AIR by calling (800) 527-1200. Be prepared with:

  • The names of the referring physician, hospital or agency
  • A phone number if a call-back is necessary for additional information
  • The patient’s name, age, weight and date of birth
  • A description of the patient's illness or injury, vital signs, medications and reasons for air transport
  • Access to the patient’s medical record, labs and test results
  • Confirmation that patient/family consent has been discussed and signed
  • Requests for specialized equipment or medications that will be needed by the flight team
  • Questions regarding patient management or transfer criteria prior to the team’s dispatch or their arrival to your location

Pre-hospital/scene requests

Pre-hospital requests may be made by physicians, nurses and EMS, fire or law enforcement officials at the scene. MedLink AIR will respond to requests when:

  • Local agencies do not have the capabilities required for advanced life support/emergency patient care
  • The aircraft’s response time will not significantly delay the patient's access to care

When contacting MedLink AIR, alert and consult with local hospital emergency departments. MedLink AIR works with local physicians and hospitals, and within their established emergency medical system for optimal patient care. You may request that the flight team be put on standby as you coordinate local emergency efforts. When requesting MedLink AIR, be prepared with:

  • Your name, EMS agency and phone number
  • Location and map or GPS coordinates, if possible
  • Nature of the emergency and known medical information
  • Number of patients
  • On-scene radio frequency and unit number which will coordinate the landing site
  • Landing site location, landmarks and hazards
  • Name of the local hospital contacted

When the flight team is near the scene, they will contact units at the location to coordinate landing and scene operations.

Standby requests

When the flight team is near the scene, they will contact units at the location to coordinate landing and scene operations.

Preparation

Patient preparation

Patient preparation will allow the MedLink AIR flight team to depart quickly, so please:

  • Initiate necessary airway management and oxygen therapy
  • Ensure that total spinal immobilization is in place for trauma patients
  • Provide copies of patients’ records, pertinent history, labs and X-rays. If these materials are not immediately available, they can be faxed to Gundersen Health System’s Emergency Services at (608) 775-4354.

Landing zone prep, communications and safety

Gundersen’s Medical Communications Center has information on the location of most hospitals’ approved landing areas. Follow your hospital or agency’s policies for personnel or equipment needed for helicopter landings and departures.

All landing areas must be lighted after dark. To land at a site other than an approved helipad, ground personnel should be available to assist in securing a landing area. A safe landing zone can be prepared following these guidelines:

  • A minimum of 100' x 100' (the bigger, the better)
  • Firm, level area clear of debris or loose soil or snow
  • Free of overhead obstructions, wires or trees
  • Indicate wind direction when possible
  • Assign one person to protect the tail rotor, positioned at least 50 feet behind the tail rotor
  • No artificial light directed at the aircraft while landing or taking off (e.g. photo flash, flood lights, television camera lights)

MedLink AIR is in communication with air traffic control, regional hospitals and prehospital units, dispatch centers and Gundersen’s Medical Communications Center. The flight team can talk with requesting agencies in flight and the pilot can talk with personnel at the landing site to ensure safe landing and departure. To enhance communication: 

  • Designate a ground unit to communicate with the aircraft
  • Disable the channel guard or PL
  • Use vehicle radios when possible, not portables
  • Preferred frequencies are: 
    • Wisconsin - Marc 2
    • Iowa - Mutual Aid
    • Minnesota - Minsef

When establishing communication with the helicopter, give a brief update such as changes in the landing zone, describe all potential hazards and direct the pilot to the scene.

When approaching the helicopter please follow these safety tips:

  • It is normal for the medical team to exit the aircraft before the blades have stopped turning; do not take this as a signal to approach the helicopter.
  • Keep everyone back at least 100 feet from the landing area.
  • Only approach escorted by flight crew or with permission of pilot.
  • Always approach from the front within full view of the pilot.
  • Allow the flight team to operation aircraft doors, and to direct patient loading and unloading.
  • Do not bring the patient to the helicopter; the medical team will come to you.
  • Remove or secure stretcher pads, sheets and IV poles.
  • Protect yourself and patients from rotor wash; rotors generate winds of up to 120 mph.
  • Use eye protection and hearing protection, if available.

The helicopter engines and rotors may or may not be shut down upon landing, so it’s important that landing zone security be maintained while the rotors are turning.

View our Landing Zone safety poster.

Assisting the team

Each team has routines for efficient and safe patient transport, so allow the MedLink AIR team to direct you in lending assistance.

  • Assist the flight team by ensuring that non-essential personnel do not approach the helicopter.
  • When loading, patients will be loaded head first through the doors. A MedLink AIR team member will handle and control the foot end of the stretcher.
  • Do not place items in the helicopter—give equipment or packs to a flight team member for proper placement and securing.
  • Only flight team members will open or close doors to the aircraft. 
  • As soon as patients and equipment are loaded into the helicopter, move away from the landing zone.

About Medlink AIR

The flight team

MedLink AIR flight team members include a critical care nurse and a specially-trained flight paramedic, both skilled in the management of life-threatening emergencies.

Every team member has completed extensive training in medical protocols and advanced skills to care for patients. The team maintains contact with an emergency medicine physician at Gundersen as well as the referring hospital at all times.

MedLink AIR is available to transport high-risk maternal patients resulting in higher infant survival rates and APGAR scores. MedLink AIR also has a special neonatal transport team to care for infants requiring advanced specialized care or observation.

The MedLink AIR helicopter

A twin-engine EC-145 aircraft is equipped to transport up to two critically ill or injured people at one time with trained personnel and specialized equipment. It flies from accident scenes and referring hospitals to tertiary care facilities.

The helicopter is able to fly day or night in most weather conditions. It is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, navigation and communications capabilities, including a satellite flight-following system which precisely tracks the aircraft’s path minute by minute.

Equipment available to the flight team during transports includes:

  • Medications and emergency equipment for advanced life support
  • Cardiac monitor, defibrillator and transcutaneous pacemaker
  • Intra-aortic balloon pump
  • Ventricular assist devices
  • Ventilator, oxygen and advanced airway equipment
  • Pulse oximetry and capnometry
  • Intravenous fluids and infusion pumps
  • Chest drainage and autotransfusion systems
  • Spine stabilization equipment
  • Burn care supplies
  • Neonatal isolette

MedLink AIR calendar

The MedLink AIR calendar is not only visually eye-catching, it’s informative. It contains programs and training session that may be of interest to you and your staff.

Download a PDF of the calendar here. 

To register or for information about the classes listed in the calendar, contact Carla Lang, Gundersen Training Center, at (608) 775-5905.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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