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Avera Medical Minute: Careflight celebrates 35 years

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 8:38 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -Avera Health is celebrating the 35th anniversary of Careflight. The service offers rapid emergency air transportation to those living in rural areas. Medical Minute Reporter Miranda Paige looks back at the history of Careflight and where staff see it taking off in the future.

Time has flown by since Careflight first started saving lives in the air.

“It’s been neat to see it evolve and grow and we’ve kind of developed a reputation across the country, like people know who we are. So, it’s great,” said Joni Ymker, Careflight Registered Nurse.

The service started in Sioux Falls at Avera Mckennan hospital in May of 1986.

“We were primarily a one rotary base when we first started,” said Anna Vanden Bosch Careflight Director of Clinical Operations.

Now the fleet consists of three helicopters. As well as three fixed-wings. They also have ground ambulances to transport to and between medical facilities.

Careflight has also expanded to include other base locations.

“Whether you’re calling from Pierre or Aberdeen, that team we’re all trained the same, all have the same resources. So that’s, I would say the biggest win I would say for careflight that we’ve had in our evolving,” said Vanden Bosch.

Ymker has served as an RN for Careflight for 14 years.

“It’s great to be able to help when they need it the most and you know, the looks of relief when we come in the door and ‘Oh good, you’re here,’” said Ymker.

Careflight has proven crucial over the years for those living in rural areas. Like for Ron Thompson who lives near Wessington Springs.

“The sun had just gone down and I thought, ‘Well that’s a really cool picture’ and I started back to the truck and I remember thinking man this might be the last picture I ever take because I was starting to feel kind of funny,” said Thompson.

He was flown to Avera Heart Hospital.

The service also helps the smallest of patients like Baby Lyric who had a cord wrapped around her neck at birth.

She was flown from Spencer to Sioux Falls.

“We do appreciate the flight team and then Avera taking care of us,” said Lyric’s dad Brian Emery.

Staff are proud of the growth over 35 years and say a lot has changed. They are busier, serving patients primarily in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, AND Nebraska.

“Just growing to really serve those outside facilities...The closer to the patient, the faster the care they can get, the better off that is,” said Vanden Bosch.

“Our technology has approved, you know, our protocols,” said Ymker.

“We have computer-aided dispatch and all that kind of stuff. It has come a long way from our radios and pagers,” she added.

Ymker says one thing that remains the same, however, is the mission.

“We’re still there for the same reason, to try to save lives and just to be a resource for people that need it.”

As staff reflects on the past they are also looking toward the future of Careflight. Vanden Bosch imagines the service will continue to grow and serve more areas in the Avera footprint.

“We want to be able to serve our partners that maybe don’t have that resource that they need. So just trying to look at what the future that way would hold for us,” said Vanden Bosch.

For more information on Careflight, head to Avera.org.

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