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Air support takes flight at Aspirus Laurium Clinic | News, Sports, Jobs

LAURIUM – The Aspirus Laurium Clinic now has air support through Guardian and Aspirus Medivac. The newly-supported service is made possible through cooperation of local law enforcement and fire departments and was initiated by ER ICU Nursing Supervisor and Trauma Coordinator Christina Verran. 

According to Verran, the importance of the initiative came to her attention last November when she was working as a staff nurse and one of her patients needed to be airlifted out. That patient was the first Guardian airlift from the location in 26 years. Verran started working with Aspirus Medivac to “be working within our system” in making the service more available. 

“It’s something we wanted to provide for our patients to get them where they need to go quickly,” said Verran. “Minutes matter.” 

When a patient is airlifted from a facility like Aspirus, they are most frequently moved to Marquette. Depending on their condition, they may be moved to medical centers as far away as Wisconsin or Minnesota. Prior to having this service available, patients who needed to be airlifted to another facility would be transported via ambulance to the airport, which costs additional money as well as time. 

“Any time we fly into a hospital, we need a landing zone,” said Aspirus Medivac Regional Manager Charles Kotke. “Some hospitals have enough space for a dedicated landing zone. Hospitals like Aspirus Keweenaw need … an open area anywhere from 100 to 150 square feet.” 

That square foot area on the ground needs to be clear, but the space above also needs to be clear of any wires, tree branches, and other obstructions.

Kotke said that they could “land and pick up on the highway if need be” but that’s different from establishing that a facility has a consistently available designated landing zone and the personnel required to facilitate a successful pickup. 

“I’ve worked with Christina over the last several months to put this together. A helicopter hadn’t landed at that facility in some time,” said Kotke. “Christina was able to recognize that some of these patients that are very sick or very injured had a timeframe that could shrink.” 

Aspirus uses a parking lot  for their helicopter landing zone, which is cleared of people and vehicles during pick-ups. This involves a PA announcement within the facility but it also involves the support of local emergency response agencies. 

“Medivac requires a safe area … We need to block off the streets so no one comes too close,” said Laurium Fire Chief Dan Zubiena. “We’ve been in contact with Calumet Township and Calumet Village as well, in case we don’t have enough people on hand at the time, and they’ve been very supportive.” 

While residents of Laurium may have already noticed more helicopter traffic, there is no set schedule on how frequently the service will be required. 

“It can definitely be variable,” said Verran. “We could have two (pickups) in a week, or we could have two in a year.”

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