They fly by air and ride by land—but Teri Grau likes to think of her staff as a ship.
“We’re one big ship of care,” says Grau, clinical director of the 120-member staff at Air Care & Mobile Care (AC&MC).
“Whether you’re in the boiler room or on the deck ... everybody has a role to do and we each need to do it well.”
This year, AC&MC is celebrating 25 years of providing care in the Tristate.
The program, part of University Hospital, provides emergency care services and transportation for hospitals and patients within a 150-mile radius of Cincinnati.
Each year, it makes more than 1,200 flights and 7,000 ground trips, working with more than 200 health care service providers.
AC&MC offers four levels of transportation, from serving the most critical patients with the most pressing time demands with Air Care to transporting patients being discharged from the hospital with Basic Life Support services.
“The key is having four levels of transport, so you can match the level of transport and care to what the patient needs,” says Air Care medical director William Hinckley, MD.
Air Care’s two helicopters operate 24 hours a day, one stationed atop University Hospital and one at West Chester Medical Center.
Each mission, they’re flown by pilots with an average of 25 years of experience and staffed by a two-person crew of a flight nurse and emergency physician.
AC&MC is one of fewer than 10 U.S. programs that have a physician on every flight.
During peak summer hours, about half of the flights are for on-scene accidents or emergencies, says Hinckley, who is also an assistant professor of emergency medicine. Often the crew doesn’t know what they will encounter at the scene until just prior to landing.
“Nothing’s ever the same,” says flight nurse Diana Deimling. “No two patients, no two hospitals, no two situations are ever alike. It makes it challenging. You have to think outside the box and come up with some creative ways to manage your patient.”
Deimling has been with AC&MC for 25 years. She says flight crews need both critical care knowledge and common sense to do the job, but emphasizes they aren’t the only ones involved in patient care.
“We’re just a small cog in that wheel,” she says. “We are there to get the patient transitioned from a really critical phase back to treatment. I have to also give credit to the low-profile units that work really hard.”
AC&MC’s ground teams may keep a lower profile, but their reach spans every step of patient care. The five ambulances of the Mobile Intensive Care Unit transport critical patients from one facility to another, for example, taking a cardiac patient to a hospital with a catheterization lab.
Three Advanced Life Support ambulances take advanced care patients between facilities and handle 911 calls on the UC campus and provide support during campus-wide events.
Grau says the final level, Basic Life Support, supports the infrastructure of the hospital, taking patients home or to extended care facilities. Together, she says, the levels support the entire continuum of patient care. But it’s the staff that makes the operation work. Grau says all employees have strong clinical backgrounds and additional clinical certifications. Many work with local emergency medical services (EMS) agencies or hold positions with other professional organizations.
It’s that dedication that has allowed AC&MC to set another benchmark: earning accreditation on all four levels of medical transport by the Commission on Accreditation of Transport Systems. It’s the highest standard by which medical transport services are measured—and AC&MC was the first program east of the Mississippi River to reach it on all four levels.
Grau says its partnership with University Hospital and UC allows AC&MC to learn about the latest technology and draw the most qualified staff—that, in turn, makes its services safer and better equipped than most. In the next 25 years, Grau says AC&MC will continue to raise standards and reach out to the community.
Each year, it holds a conference for local EMS squads and hospitals; each quarter, it re-evaluates staff on key skills and new technology. Soon, it will add night vision capabilities to helicopters and better monitoring equipment to vehicles.
“This program is 25 years old and we still teach ourselves,” says pilot Don Haney. “Every day there’s something to learn.”