MILLINOCKET, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud was there. So was state Rep. Herbie Clark. Millinocket Regional Hospital Chief Executive Officer Marie Vienneau and her staff, LifeFlight of Maine executives — almost everyone who had a stake in the new helipad at MRH was there to celebrate its formal dedication on a swelter-ing Monday morning.
Except, that is, for a LifeFlight helicopter and crew.
The helicopter, due to cap the ceremonies by landing behind the celebrants as a ribbon to the new pad was cut, was about 30 minutes late. It was handling emergencies in central Maine.
That was entirely fitting to Rachel Cyr, a 72-year-old resident whose heart attack on July 29, and her need to get to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for further treatment, made her the helipad’s first customer.
“There are a lot of people out there who need this service,” Cyr said Monday.
Millinocket Regional and Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln are among the last of 31 hospitals and medical centers statewide, out of 37, to have helipad construction costs at least partially funded by Maine voters through a $2.6 million state transportation bond in 2003. About $8 million in building costs came from other sources, said Tom Judge, LifeFlight’s executive director.
He said the facilities that lack helipads are Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, Maine General Medical Center in Augusta, St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, St. Mary Hospital in Lewiston, Mount Desert Island Hospital and Mercy Hospital in Portland.
PVH received $18,750 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program and $103,700 from the bond for the helipad and related improvements. Millinocket Regional got $18,300 from Rural Development and $106,250 from the bond. The pads were completed last month.
Penobscot Valley’s 45-foot-square helipad is part of a $400,000 renovation project. The helipad is in the northern corner of the hospital’s Transalpine Road parking lot. The other renovations to the hospital’s Emergency Department include two new beds and a new entrance leading to the helipad.
Millinocket’s pad is located in the northeast corner of the hospital campus, close to the main building. Hospital officials purchased an adjacent parcel and leveled trees on it to make room for the pad, Vienneau said.
The helipads around the state will cut at least 30 minutes, and as much as three hours, from transport times of patients taken hospital-to-hospital statewide, Judge said. They streamline critical care and make it safer. Before the new pad’s installation in Millinocket, LifeFlight landed in the hospital parking lot; copters bound for PVH landed at Lincoln Regional Airport about a mile away.
“This [helipad] will greatly improve people’s access to good, quality health care,” Michaud said. “When you save transportation time, you save lives. Good health care isn’t just about the numbers [expenses]. It’s about the lives, the people.”