Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation 20th Year

From the EMS Medical Director’s Chair

by Heong Png, Medical Director, Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation

Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation began as a single helicopter and ground ALS ambulance with a single communication specialist center located at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield, Wisconsin, and was known as the Spirit of Marshfield. The mission in 1993 was to provide comprehensive, regionally integrated, ground and air transportation for adult, pediatric, neonatal and high risk obstetrical patients. In 1993 we were the only air and ground transportation service in the state of Wisconsin that provided 24/7 coverage. From these humble beginnings we have evolved into a highly sophisticated system that provides critical care transport to the people of central and northern Wisconsin, as well as the upper peninsula of Michigan and Minnesota.

Healthcare has become more specialized and time sensitive, and in order to provide quality care to the rural population, our transportation service expanded to allow timely access to definitive care. In 2005, we began with the first of many expansions of our ground operations; this expansion began with a ground and intercept base at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston, Wisconsin. In May, 2009, this base added a dedicated intercept vehicle and paramedic as the need increased for inter-hospital transports. In 2010, a ground base at Ministry Saint Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, was established. In 2009, Ministry Healthcare merged the northern region transport service - Northwoods Transport Service with the Spirit team and Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation was created and began operation on July 1, 2009. Northwoods transport Service operated critical care ground transport out of Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff that served the five northern region hospitals inter-hospital transport needs. At the time of the merger, of these two skilled transport entities, an additional ground base at was established in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, at Ministry Saint Mary’s Hospital, in addition to the base operation at Howard Young Medical Center. A second airbase opened in Rhinelander in May 2011, in response to the increasing demand for rapid transport from Northern Wisconsin when minutes count.

Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation ground transport crews consist of a registered nurse, critical care paramedic, and EMT-Basic. The flight crew consists of a certified flight registered nurse, certified flight paramedic, and an Air Methods pilot. Each transport crew member must maintain multiple certifications such as BLS, ACLS, PALS, NRP, CEVO and advanced trauma certification. The crew must also keep up-to-date on advanced skills such as intubations, surgical cricothyrotomy, needle decompression, pericardiocentesis, and other high risk low volume procedures, as well as clinical time in specialty care units such as Obstetrics, Surgical Intensive Care (SICU), Pediatric Intensive Care (PICU) and Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU).

Ministry Spirit dispatch began with a single dispatcher in a small office manually tracking the aircraft and ground ambulance. Currently they have expanded into a state-of-the-art communication center that utilizes all the latest technology to dispatch, and track each aircraft, eight ground ambulances and two intercept vehicles. Technology includes GPS tracking with Nextraq of all ground vehicles, as well as Outer-link to track both aircraft on large screens in the communication center. This technology allows our dedicated certified communication specialists to safely and efficiently move and track transport crews/vehicles around the system. Many of the communication specialists also hold the advanced National Association of Air Communication Specialists (NAACS), and are certified Flight Coordinators.

The need for efficient movement of patients around the Ministry system was recognized and the idea of a “one call does it all” for patient referrals was born. The communication center located in Marshfield at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital has expanded to what is known today as Ministry Connect. One phone call to Ministry Connect will efficiently connect referring /receiving doctors and also arrange patient transport to the receiving hospital. This innovative idea has streamlined the movement of patients
within the Ministry Healthcare system to use protocols created by physicians and leaders of each hospital. Ministry Connect has expanded to facilitating referrals for many of the Ministry hospitals, and continues to expand.

Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation, as we are known today, has evolved over the last 20 years; we have grown to meet the critical care transport needs of the patients we serve. Our program will continue to grow using a system approach to meet the needs of our communities by providing a highly skilled team that focuses on providing high quality evidence-based
patient care with a commitment to safety.


Did You Know?

  • In 2003 there was 12 nurses, 11 paramedics, 15 on-call drivers, four pilots, two maintenance specialists and seven dispatchers within Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation. In 2014 there are 28 nurses, 34 paramedics, 26 full time EMTs, 8 pilots, 3 maintenance specialists, 3 regional managers, 1 program director and 5 base medical directors and one system medical director.
  • Spirit I aircraft is an twin engine, IFR capable EC 145.
  • Spirit II aircraft is an single engine AS 350 also known as “The Squirrel.”
  • Each crew member must be certified in BLS, ACLS, PALS, NRP, advanced trauma certification in addition to their normal RN and paramedic licensure.
  • All Ministry Spirit flight crew holds advanced flight certification (CFRN or FPC).
  • Spirit II has flown a total of 94,588 minutes since 2011.
  • The normal configuration for a critical care ground crew is an EMT driver, critical care paramedic and a RN.
  • The tail number for Spirit I is “N611SJ” this is the address of MSJH (611 Saint Josephs Ave).
  • Ministry Spirit Pilot, Nils Strickland was named “EMS Pilot of the Year” for 2008. Nils has been with Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation since its inception in 1993.
  • Ministry Spirit mechanic, Mike Luna, who is an employee of Air Methods Corporation, was bestowed the honor of “Transport Mechanic Award of Excellence” in 2010.
  • The Ministry Spirit flight and ground crews receive equal training and hold the same certifications.
  • Ministry Spirit Ambulance fleet put an average of 10,000-12,000 miles/month on each vehicle.
  • There are 8 Critical Care ground ambulances, and 2 intercept SUV’s in the Spirit fleet.

I’d like to thank Colleen Herda, Carla David and all Ministry Spirit Medical Transportation members
who have been so generous in providing me with such a rich historical perspective.

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