Published on January 11, 2022

New helipad to greatly reduce patient-transport times in emergency situations

Now that structural steel placement is complete and Essentia Health’s replacement hospital for St. Mary’s Medical Center is taking shape, design plans are set in motion for the new helipad atop the building.

The new helipad will improve patient care, especially in emergent situations during which time is crucial. Efficiencies will include swifter transport of patients to the emergency department, where physicians can begin treatment. Currently, care teams must navigate a circuitous route to bring patients to the ED. 

VNL HelipadThanks to the innovative design and layout of the helipad, patients will be transported down one high-speed elevator and that exits immediately adjacent to a trauma/resuscitation bay, where most emergency imaging and scanning equipment, surgery areas and other acute-care tools will be located.

“This will allow for our response times, after patient entry into our facility, to be nearly immediate,” said Dr. Adam Riutta, an emergency medicine physician at Essentia. “When a patient arrives at this new ED and they need advanced imaging, everything can be done within a roughly 30-foot distance, which provides less risk for unplanned changes in condition.”

The new layout also enhances privacy as patients no longer will have to be transported through public areas. The patient-only elevator from the helipad to treatment areas does not directly connect to public-facing areas of the hospital.

“If you are in the hospital receiving critical care, you are having one of the worst days of your life. Providing this extra layer of privacy while traveling within the hospital allows us to treat the patient with more dignity and respect during their difficult time,” said Dr. Riutta.

St. Mary’s Medical Center is the only adult Level I trauma center north of the Twin Cities.

The rooftop that the helipad is located on is also much larger and features two separate areas for multiple helicopters. Approach directions for the helicopters are also more direct and offer cleaner airspace to travel through.

“The overall improvement in the design and size is a safety enhancement for our crews that operate and work on these helicopters,” said Gregory Thingvold, vice president of aviation operations for Life Link III, Essentia’s partner for air medical transportation. “The whole design and increased space make arrival and departure routes much safer.”

Amy Saylor, a regional clinic manager with Life Link III and a 12-year veteran of providing care to patients who need to be airlifted, says the modern efficiencies are critical to providing a high level of care upon arrival.

“There is patient-care space and an area on the helipad where we can help stabilize a patient before transporting them inside the hospital,” said Saylor.

Because the helipad elevator is for patient transport only, there are also processes in place to ensure it is almost always at the top of the building so emergency care teams don’t have to wait for the elevator. 

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