The University Record, July 9, 2001

Survival Flight helicopters taking off from new high-tech helipad facility

By Kara Gavin
Health System Public Relations

A Survival Flight helicopter lands at the Health System’s new helipad. (Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services)
The Health System’s two new high-tech helipads and support building give critically ill patients and emergency medical staff a faster and more direct route to the emergency department.

The $7 million landing area and support facility, built on a specially constructed, terraced outcropping on a bluff overlooking the Huron River, is linked to the hospital by a tunnel that runs under a nearby road. It replaces a 15-year-old facility on the roof of the hospital complex.

Survival Flight flies more than 1,300 missions a year, most of them via the three twin-engine Bell 430 helicopters that will share use of the new helipads. The helicopters’ range allows them to serve locations in Michigan, Ohio and Ontario, while the program’s fixed-wing jet can fly throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“Our passengers and cargo rely on our speed and skill to provide intensive and critical-care transport,” says Mark J. Lowell, Survival Flight medical director and clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine.

Adds Denise Landis, manager of critical care transport, “This new facility gives us more of an edge when time is critical and provides direct access to the rest of the medical center.”

Besides the landing pads, the new facility features a building with expanded crew quarters, where Survival Flight staff can train and rest between missions. The building also gives staff easier access to such equipment as ECMO life-support technology, isolettes for critically ill newborns, temporary artificial heart and heart-assist devices, and spinal cord stabilizers.

The new helipads, designed by Albert Kahn Associates and built under the management of the Christman Co. with project management by Plant Extension staff led by Larry Bowman, rely on some high-tech advances in construction.

A “geo grid” earth reinforcement system allowed the terraced structure to be built on the side of a bluff without mortar, recapturing unused land across East Medical Center Drive from the emergency department entrance.

Innovative tunneling techniques allowed construction of the 300-foot underground corridor without disturbing traffic on the road. The tunnel ends at a dedicated elevator that takes patients into the emergency department.

The 11,000-square-foot aluminum deck “floats” over its substructure, which includes pipes for antifreeze and heated water that will keep the helipads free of snow and ice in winter.