Chicago’s First Hospital-Based Air Ambulance
Welcome to the University of Chicago Aeromedical Network (UCAN). UCAN is the air medical service of UChicago Medicine. It was founded in 1983 and is the oldest medical helicopter program in the Chicagoland area and the only hospital-based air medical transport program in Chicago. While UCAN has transitioned from a nurse/resident crew to a nurse/nurse dedicated team, EM residents have ample opportunities to be involved with UCAN and fly on an elective basis.
Who We Fly and How We Operate
UCAN provides both air and ground transport of over 750 critically ill or injured neonatal, pediatric and adult patients each year. By air, UCAN will respond to both scene responses (e.g., direct to the scene of a motor vehicle collision) and interfacility transports. We typically transport one patient at a time, but can fly two patients at once if necessary. Most flights are interfacility transports from regional hospitals and transport times are typically less than 30 minutes each way, but can occasionally be over an hour. Ground transport timing can vary with traffic, weather and distance. For flights directly to the scene of an emergency — whether to a highway, industrial facility, football field, or public park — requests typically come from 911 communications centers or emergency medical service providers (e.g. police, fire fighters, or paramedics). For interfacility transports, ER/ICU physicians frequently request flights via the UCAN communications center.
The UCAN Helicopter
UCAN currently flies an Airbus EC-145. The aircraft was put in service in July, 2018, replacing a Dauphin helicopter that was retired after transporting more than 13,000 patients across the region during its tenure with UCAN. The Dauphin had been featured more than a dozen times on major television shows including ER and Chicago Med. The twin-engine EC-145 has a cruising speed of up to 140 miles per hour and a range of approximately 200 nautical miles. This speed and range allows UCAN to serve a far outlying community. The EC-145 can seat up to four medical crew members in addition to the pilot. The cabin can accommodate such equipment as an intra-aortic balloon pump (IAPB), incubator for premature babies, or extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine to support patients with severe cardiac and respiratory decompensation.
The helicopter has multiple safety features, including a digital autopilot for stability, night-vision goggles, satellite tracking, collision avoidance systems for air traffic and terrain, weather radar, and wire strike cutters. The UCAN helicopter is owned and operated by Air Methods Corporation. UCAN works in conjunction with MedEx Ambulance Service to maintain a dedicated ground transport ambulance for UCAN that can act as backup in case of weather conditions that prohibit flying or for short distance transports.
Resident Elective Opportunities
Residents can avail themselves of the opportunity to function as a third crew member on UCAN flights and train with its expert team of flight nurses, pilots, and communications specialists either for two weeks during PGY-2 or as an elective for two or four weeks during PGY-3. The training consists of familiarization and hands-on experience in the air and on the ground. Residents learn scene management, medical control, and remote stabilization of critically ill patients from the neonate to adult. The training also addresses an introduction to and appropriate use of air medical transport, altitude physiology, helicopter operations, and flight communications. The fast-paced training is not simply a ride-along, and residents participate in patient care as well as prepare medical topic “chalk talks” and a case presentation for UCAN teams.