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Grande Ronde Hospital and Life Flight Network recently transported the first patient from the hospitalís new helistop, improving the quality of emergency health care for current and future generations of rural Northeast Oregon residents. Submitted photo
Grande Ronde Hospital and Life Flight Network recently transported the first patient from the hospitalís new helistop, improving the quality of emergency health care for current and future generations of rural Northeast Oregon residents. Submitted photo

Patients requiring emergency care outside of the Grande Ronde Valley will fly to regional hospitals much faster now that the Grande Ronde Hospital’s helistop is up and running.

Flying directly from the hospital and alleviating an ambulance ride to an awaiting aircraft will save lives, said Mardi Ford, community relations manager for Grande Ronde Hospital.

“When you are talking about a stroke victim or a baby just born who needs to be flown to Boise or Portland — that’s huge,” said Ford. 

Ford said the $1.2 million helistop is a gift from the hospital to the community and will improve patient care with less handling and quicker service. Having a direct flight path in and out of the helistop for the small, but powerful, Life Flight A-Star helicopter provides quicker and safer transfer times for the hospital’s most critical patients. 

The Life Flight helicopter started operating out of the La Grande Airport in June 2011, which alone was a boon to transporting patients from the valley to regional hospitals. La Grande has had a plane available for many years, but the helicopter expanded the area’s ability to save lives. 

“Life Flight has made this thing feasible,” Ford said. “Having a helicopter in the community that can land on the freeway or in the mountains is new and we are very grateful for the opportunity to use it.”

Quicker response time and more flexibility to fly patients out of the area got the hospital staff talking about having a helistop in the community, said Ford.

“Having the helicopter land here will further improve emergency care for more of our patients, while alleviating safety concerns over landings at (across the street at) Central Elementary,” said Doug Romer, executive director of patient care services at Grande Ronde Hospital.

The helistop officially opened Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving, and a Grande Ronde patient was transported that day.

A preliminary test landing was coordinated between Grande Ronde Hospital and Life Flight on Saturday, Nov. 17. That first historic touchdown was witnessed by a handful of hospital employees and emergency services personnel from the City of La Grande.

“This was very exciting to finally see. We are so happy that everything went very smoothly — the helistop is truly a gift from the hospital to the community,” said Carl Bond, senior director of clinical services at Grande Ronde Hospital, after the test landing.

Bond said that Facilities Director Elaine La Rochelle had several staff members positioned at key locations throughout the hospital to monitor noise, vibration and watch for anything out of the ordinary that could be a potential cause for concern.

“It could not have gone any better,” Bond said. “We are all extremely pleased. This has been a highly anticipated day for so many people.”

Work began on the helistop project last May. According to Tim Wilcox, hospital project manager, building the $1.2 million helistop was a project unlike any other he’s undertaken during his career in construction management.

“Integrating local, state and federal codes with FAA and OSHA requirements, along with the added geological site issues of construction on a hillside will definitely challenge a person,” Wilcox said. “But watching that helicopter fly off with a patient in need gives us all a measure of pride and satisfaction in the end result.”

Wilcox said that the Life Flight Network’s involvement was important to the success of the project, as well as that of the City of La Grande, especially building inspector David Kloss.

“Having Life Flight in this community is a pleasure. And David (Kloss) never hesitated to help when called. I also can’t say enough about the local contractors -- Dan Davidson Construction Inc., DL Edmondson and their men of steel, Hampton Paving, Overton Electric, Barreto Manufacturing, Advanced Plumbing, Bagett, Griffith and Blackman, Anderson Perry, Stretch Masterson Floor Coverings, and Brooks Painting -- all these folks helped make this project happen,” said Wilcox.

The Grande Ronde Hospital Foundation has raised funds to offset the $1.2 million expense of the project. Additional gifts for the project were provided by the Saint Alphonsus Heath System of Boise, and legacy gifts given by the estates of Glen and Jean McKenzie and Alex McKenzie. This spring, the hospital and foundation will hold a joint ceremony to officially open the helistop with special tours for the public.

“This will be a very celebratory event for the entire community. We particularly want to provide an opportunity for our donors to see firsthand how their contributions make a difference to patient care in our community not only today, but for the long term,” said Will Simons, foundation manager.

 
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