Survival Flight helps Michigan Medicine reach new heights — on the ground

January 25, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

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The newest addition to the Survival Flight fleet sets the bar pretty high, albeit at ground level.

While it may not be evident in the team’s name, ground transportation plays a pivotal role at Survival Flight, where patients, care teams and organs set for transplant are often moved over land when weather conditions prevent flying.

That’s why Survival Flight recently debuted a new state-of-the-art ambulance — purchased in partnership with Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA) — that provides safe, comfortable ground transportation when air travel is not an option.

The vehicle is licensed, maintained and operated by HVA, who also provide the EMS staff to drive it, and is dedicated solely to Survival Flight use and use by the Michigan Medicine organ procurement team.

“Survival Flight ambulances require integration with many complex pieces of patient care equipment, such as ECMO, balloon pumps and isolettes,” said Denise Landis, critical care transport manager. “Additionally, high-acuity patients may also require expanded care teams. This new ambulance gives us the space and weight capacity we need, while meeting all current ambulance safety and regulatory standards.”

The ambulance has been used 11 times since going into service last November, including two ECMO transports, an area where it has proven particularly advantageous.

“The entire ECMO medical team — six people — can now ride in the same vehicle as the patient and equipment,” said Elaine Philipson, flight nurse specialist with Survival Flight. “Previously these transports required two ambulances.”

Cutting-edge technology

Ground transportation also provides advantages when it comes to integrating the newest equipment and technology.

“All patient care equipment has to be certified for flight by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before we can bring it on an air transport,” Landis said.

She pointed to the Organ Care System (sometimes referred to as the “liver in a box”) — a high-tech device that keeps a donated liver functioning as if it were still in the body — as an example.

“The Organ Care System is not yet certified to be flown by the FAA,” Landis said. “This new ambulance, on the other hand, is outfitted with the correct pressure points and security features to transport it safely.”

A collaborative process

When it came to designing the new ambulance, the Survival Flight team was heavily involved.

“Flight nurses designed the entire back of the vehicle,” Landis said. “They can bring everything and everyone they need.”

The team also took advantage of the opportunity to make the vehicle safer and more comfortable by adding features including captain’s chairs, five-point restraints and head strike protection areas.

“To the care team, it feels more like a car than a traditional ambulance,” Landis said, “which is much better and safer when you’re dealing with specialists who need to function in a high-stress environment.”

All in all, Landis said, the new ambulance is the ideal complement to the Survival Flight fleet.

“We took every opportunity to expand for safety and capability,” she said. “It fits perfectly with our mission to provide the best care possible to all of our patients.”