1 Aero Med helicopter moving to Traverse City


BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Spectrum Health and Munson Healthcare are partnering to operate two medical helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft in Traverse City, moving one Aero Med aircraft out of Big Rapids.

Spectrum says the decision was made to improve efficiency and maintain a sustainable service model, but some fear it could put lives at risk by increasing response times.

Lee Gibson says Aero Med saved his life. The 73-year-old from Hersey in Osceola County said he started feeling faint after returning home from a trip.

“I turned and started to the TV room where my easy chair is and became light-headed and very, very shaky,” he said.

He didn’t know it yet, but he was experiencing the onset of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“The next thing I knew, I remember receiving a bump in the ambulance because they were rushing me to the hospital,” he said.

Doctors at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital quickly determined he needed more care than the hospital was equipped to give. They used an Aero Med helicopter to fly him to Grand Rapids to get the treatment he needed to survive. He made it just in time.

“Thank God for Aero Med,” he said.

Now, he and some others are worried that moving an Aero Med helicopter from Big Rapids to Traverse City will make that impossible for others.

“Without Aero Med, it’s going to be tough for this city,” he said.

There are concerns that an ambulance wouldn’t be able to make the same sorts of trips quickly enough and that if Aero Med has to take longer to get to Reed City, it won’t be fast enough, either.

But Spectrum doesn’t expect it to be a problem.

“The majority of our transports are actually from hospital to hospital,” said Shawn Ulreich, the chief nursing executive and senior vice president of clinical operations at Spectrum Health. “There’s actually only about 20 percent that occur at the scene. But we’re committed to that. We’ve evaluated that in terms of response to both the community and also the hospitals.”

She said the current helicopter based in Grand Rapids operates 10 hours a day and five days a week. When it moves to Traverse City, she said, it will be a 24-hour operation.

“We also have times when the Grand Rapids base actually services Big Rapids to a pretty significant degree,” she said. “So just because we’re not flying out of Big Rapids doesn’t mean that we’re not going to service that area. Of course we’ll continue to service it.”

Michael Lafferty, who manages Roben-Hood Airport in Big Rapids, said Aero Med has run nearly 800 out of Big Rapids since 2011. He did some research of his own, noting response times would more than double in some cases.

“We know how quickly people are expedited to the hospital from here. So we know that it saves time,” he said.

Spectrum would not comment on how much funding is going into the partnership with Munson.

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