CHEYENNE - Cheyenne Regional Medical Center began offering air ambulance service here almost a year ago.
Hospital leaders wanted to reduce response times for rural patients. They also hoped to improve the ability to get patients to appropriate caregivers.
AirLife Denver - based in Aurora, Colo. - provides the staff and helicopter. It started operations here on May 9, 2012.
AirLife Denver serves eight states and has operated for 30 years.
The local hospital contracts with HCA-HealthOne for $500,000 a year for the air ambulance service. HCA-HealthOne owns AirLife Denver.
AirLife employees will host an open house Saturday at their base at Cheyenne Regional Airport to celebrate the anniversary.
Leaders from Cheyenne Regional and AirLife Denver say the year has been a success.
"It has gone really well," said Bob Greene, an AirLife flight nurse and its team leader for outreach. "We have had a good reception and been embraced by (the) emergency medical system here."
Added Bob Thorne, vice president at CRMC and chief strategy officer, "It has been a tremendous benefit to the region by having the helicopter."
The new green-and-blue Bell 407 helicopter housed at Cheyenne Regional Airport is stocked with the latest emergency medical care equipment.
It was delivered to Cheyenne in December and still has that "new helicopter smell," Greene said. New crew quarters are located at the airport too.
Cheyenne crews used other helicopters from the AirLife fleet until the new aircraft arrived. AirLife leases its aircraft.
The helicopter can carry a patient, pilot and two crew members.
The crew is made up of two registered nurses or one paramedic and a registered nurse. Nurses must have a minimum of five years in a hospital intensive care unit or emergency department. Crew members also take 22-26 weeks of training.
Since starting in Cheyenne, AirLife crews have made 75 visits to area hospitals. They have trained firefighters from regional fire districts and American Medical Response ambulance about landing zones.
AirLife crews have responded to several types of calls in the last year, including vehicle crashes, ranching and industrial accidents and skiing, mountain climbing and mountain bike mishaps.
The air ambulance covers the southern half of the state. The area includes hospitals in Wheatland, Torrington, Rawlins and Laramie.
It also has responded to calls in the Snowy Mountain range and at Vedauwoo, an area located between Cheyenne and Laramie known for its rock climbing.
Greene estimates there have been between 25 to 30 calls a month.
The air ambulance staff has been an integral part of the hospital's Air STEMI program, Thorne said. The rapid response program is an effort to get heart attack patients from rural areas to CRMC's Wyoming Heart and Vascular department as quickly as possible.
STEMI is short for ST-elevation myocardial infarction. That is when blood flow is cut off through one of major coronary arteries. Unless the blockage is removed quickly, the patient's life is at risk
"Prior to the helicopter here, we didn't have the ability to rapidly coordinate Wheatland, Torrington, Kimball, Laramie and Rawlins," Thorne said.
Hospital officials look at the helicopter service as a benefit not only for Cheyenne but for patients in Wyoming and parts of Nebraska.
"It has proven to be a very effective tool in the coordination of care in the region," he said.