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Published on November 14, 2018

Avera Begins Careflight Service in Pierre

A ribbon cutting ceremony took place in Pierre Nov. 14 for the new Avera Careflight hangar at the Pierre Regional Airport, and for the first time ever, a new PC-12 fixed-wing plane is based in South Dakota’s capital city.

“Having Careflight based in Pierre serves residents in central South Dakota with faster access to the right level of care for their illness or injury,” said Mikel Holland, MD, Chief Medical Officer and President of Avera St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre.

In addition to Pierre, Avera Careflight has a fixed-wing plane and helicopter based in Sioux Falls and a helicopter in Aberdeen.

“When a critical illness or injury occurs, the sooner a patient can receive specialty critical care services, the better outcomes he or she will experience. That’s why we’ve placed a priority on expanding Careflight,” said Doug Ekeren, Administrative Lead of Avera’s Emergency Medicine Service Line and CEO and Regional President of Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton, S.D.

The 13,000-square foot hangar at the Pierre airport provides 10,000 square feet of hangar space plus staff sleeping quarters, a meeting room, training room, commons area and storage space. Jim Peitz, owner and operator Mustang Aviation and Alliance Aircraft Sales, built and owns the structure and rents it to Avera.

A staff of three are stationed at the hanger around the clock, including a nurse, a paramedic and a pilot. They are ready to go at a moment’s notice, and can lift off within 15 minutes. The fixed-wing plane flies from airport to airport to pick up patients who need transport to Pierre, Sioux Falls or another Avera location where they can receive the right level of care. The plane and crew in Pierre are expected to average about one flight per day.

“Careflight was started over 30 years ago based on Avera’s belief that no matter where patients experience critical injuries or illness throughout our footprint, they deserve the same access to critical care,” said Jared Friedman, MD, Clinical Vice President of Avera’s Emergency Medicine Service Line. “Time is of the essence in case of serious trauma, heart attack or stroke.”

Before now, there was an hour and a half wait until a fixed-wing aircraft could fly to Pierre. “That hour and a half window makes a huge difference, and sometimes can make all the difference in a life or death situation,” Friedman said.

More than just a fast way to get patients to the hospital, Careflight is an extension of a hospital critical care unit and Emergency Department. Careflight helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft are designed as airborne ICUs, staffed by professionals highly trained in critical care.

Avera strives to keep its air transport services as affordable as possible. Yet this medical service often exceeds $8,000 per flight. That’s why Avera offers the Careflight Membership Program for a low fee of $49 per year.

For people who have this membership, costs are completely covered if they or their family members need Careflight emergency transport. To learn more, go to or call the Avera Foundation at 605-322-4759.

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