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Boreal Community Media

A Boreal Exclusive – Interview with a Life Link III Flight Nurse

Mar 11, 2019 06:38AM ● By Editor

Mindy Olander stands in front of Lifelink

Exclusive to Boreal Community Media - March 11, 2019

Yes, angels really do come from up above.  This was apparent when Boreal staff met with Mindy Olander from Life Link III.  Mindy has been a Base Lead/Flight Nurse with the Duluth-based Life Link III base for 6 ½ years.

Life Link III was formed in 1985 as one of the first non-profit consortiums in the country to transport critically ill patients by helicopter. They operate eight helicopter bases located in Alexandria, Blaine, Brainerd, Duluth, Hibbing and Willmar, Minnesota and Marshfield and Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Last year, Life Link III crews completed 2,738 transports.

Each base at Life Link III has five RN’s and five paramedics that share an on-call rotation.  The Duluth base is 1 of 2 that are based at a hospital, as the rest are airport based.  The other hospital base is located in Marshfield, Wisconsin. The Duluth base and crew quarters are located at the top of St Mary’s, where the helicopter is stationed.

Prior to coming to Life Link III, Mindy worked in a critical care unit in a St. Cloud hospital for 13 years.  She said that the requirements for flight nurses are a 4 year Registered Nurse degree and three years’ experience in a busy Intensive Care Unit.  The crew for a Life Link III shift includes a pilot, a flight nurse, and a flight paramedic.

Life Link III also provides specialty transports and is the exclusive air medical transport service for five Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) teams. These teams assist Life Link III’s crew when it comes to high-risk infant cases.  They are able to have a nurse practitioner and RN from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit assist as needed.  According to Mindy, “This is a blessing, as the baby is getting the care that they need.”

Facility transfers to St. Mary’s or St. Luke’s are the majority of the trips for the Duluth base.   They do also transport patients other hospitals, including HCMC’s burn unit and to the U of M or Rochester for transplant services.  Mindy said that they do encounter many seasonal cases, such as hypothermia or snowmobile accidents.

As expected in the Midwest, there are weather conditions that can prevent them from flying. Visibility plays a factor, as well as fog and thunderstorms. Weather is closely monitored and pilots perform a weather check prior to every flight. In the event the helicopter cannot fly, Life Link III has a dedicated, medically-configured airplane to assist with patient transports.

Within the helicopter, there is limited space.  Everything is in a specific spot.  Flight clinicians must have regular weigh-ins, as their weight (with gear) cannot exceed 230 pounds.  The crew even has to monitor how much their fuel weighs. 

The ability for a family member to ride with a patient has many factors that must be taken into consideration, such as the weight of the person, the distance with fuel, and how calm they are, as safety comes first.  They do make every effort to take a parent along with child transports. 

When asked how she handles the stress that comes with her job, especially when never knowing what type of situation they may encounter when they start each shift, Mindy stated “It’s all about the patient and their family”.  She said that pediatric cases can be very stressful, but that they have a mental health professional to offer services as needed.  After critical incidents, they have a debriefing that can help to cope with stress and help prepare for the next mission.  Anyone involved in the rescue attempt can request services, which are often held at town halls or community centers. 

To learn more about Life Link III, visit their link

In Cook County, we often hear the Life Link III helicopter landing or taking off.  Thank you, Life Link III, for the life-saving services that you provide to our community.