It is becoming easier for emergency personnel to reach western North Dakota residents in need of medical help — even those who may think they’re out of reach.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday at the Biesiot Activities Center for the Spirit Lifeline air medical helicopter, the first of its kind in Dickinson.
Spirit Lifeline is based on the grounds of the new St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center, which is under construction in west Dickinson. Though the hospital won’t be fully operation until the fall of 2014, the helicopter and its crew are already going strong.
They have been operating since June 1 and have made 18 flights for medical transport, pilot Robert Fratti said.
“This is a service that improves lives of our citizens and will save lives,” Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said in his dedication speech.
Patty LaPaglia of Dickinson is a flight paramedic on the Spirit Lifeline crew. She spent nine years with the Dickinson Ambulance Service.
“We’re just here to help,” said LaPaglia, who has been a part of six flights so far. “The services are getting overwhelmed with the population explosion.”
Western North Dakota has seen a rise in medical needs because of a population explosion brought on by the Bakken oil boom. The oil industry has dangerous jobs that are often done in remote locations, making the need for the helicopter even greater.
However, Reed Reyman, the president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center, said the helicopter will be there for more than just the oil industry.
“A lot of our traumas are still farm accidents,” he said. “It’s something we’ve needed because of the change in all of the different industries.”
The helicopter has a pilot, a registered nurse and a paramedic on board for each flight. LaPaglia said it is quite a change from being in an ambulance.
“It’s close quarters,” she said with a smile. “It’s a lot smaller. We do provide a little bit higher level of care.”
Fratti said he recently flew to Bowman for an emergency. It took the crew 20 minutes from departure to landing and was able to get the patient safely to St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck for care.
“They’re on the backside roads,” Fratti said of those who live in rural North Dakota. “It takes them a while to get to a larger medical center.”
Spirit Lifeline is one of 56 air medical transports in 18 states served by Med-Trans Corp.