A Guardian to watch over Williston

WILLISTON – At all hours of the day, a helicopter flying away from or returning to the roof of the hospital in Minot can be spotted or heard. The same can be said about the emergency helicopter at Mercy Medical Center in Williston. Mercy Medical Center’s emergency helicopter is operated by Guardian Flight, providing the city of Williston and the surrounding areas with the added resource for emergency response and quick patient transportation.

The emergency helicopter assists local first responders, EMS, fire and law enforcement by responding to motor vehicle accidents, oilfield injuries and any other scene response. The helicopter also assists in helipad-to-helipad patient transportation. Mercy Medical Center has been in partnership with Guardian Flight since May 2013.

Shanon Pollock, vice president of business development for Guardian Flight, said the helicopter can fly from Williston to Billings, Mont., or Bismarck. Billings is the farthest away the helicopter has transported a patient. “The rotor is excellent for shorter patient transports that require quicker response,” Pollock said. “For longer patient transports, we use a fixed-wing aircraft.”

Guardian Flight covers western North Dakota and eastern Montana. “We cover as far north as Crosby, as far east as Minot, as far south as Dickinson, and as far west as Glendive, Sidney and Culbertson, Mont.,” he said.

The helicopter is typically used when time can be saved by its ability to go from helipad to helipad or from a scene of an accident to a larger receiving facility, according to Pollock. The helicopter’s ability to land at an oil rig in a remote location or on a highway at a scene of a motor vehicle accident can oftentimes mean the difference between life and death.

The amount of flights made by the helicopter varies depending upon the month and normal trends in emergency medicine and health care needs, Pollock said. “We transport patients almost daily from healthcare facilities to larger hospitals in the region or from scenes of accidents.”

It’s not known exactly how many lives have been saved with the emergency helicopter, but Pollock said there have been hundreds of patients and accident victims transported who were in need of care not available at the time of their need or accident.

“Some of those lives were saved and all of those lives were improved by providing them with, and getting them to, proper medical care quickly,” he said.

Mercy Medical Center uses the Guardian Flight helicopter and Valley Med Flight fixed-wing aircraft for the majority of the patient transports, Pollock said. However, there are times when the helicopter and airplane are out on transports at the same time, he added. In that case, an additional resource, like the North Star CriticAir helicopter from Trinity, is needed. Pollock said this situation is rare, but it happens occasionally.

The crew on Guardian Flight consists of a pilot, a registered flight nurse and a flight paramedic. The helicopter is capable of transporting one patient.

The time it takes altogether for a rescue with the helicopter, from the time of receiving the call to landing the helicopter at the hospital, is all contingent upon distance from the accident or sending hospital to the receiving hospital. However, Guardian Flight crew members respond to the helicopter to depart within 10 or 15 minutes, Pollock said. “Our response times are great,” he added. “Total time simply depends on the distance from point A to point B.”