University of Minnesota receives grant from Helmsley Charitable Trust to test ‘super ambulances’

Minneapolis, MN—The University of Minnesota has received a grant of $892,462 from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Rural Healthcare Program to explore the feasibility of equipping ambulances that function as mobile emergency departments. These first-of-their-kind “super ambulances” would be capable of treating sudden cardiac arrest, stroke, and other extremely time-sensitive medical crises when they occur away from the hospital.

The University’s Minnesota Resuscitation Consortium (MRC) in the Medical School’s Department of Medicine will use the grant to develop a plan to improve emergency care for critical-need patients in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. The goal: faster emergency response and transport to treatment centers as well as mobile delivery of lifesaving therapies. Extending the initiative to Minnesota’s outer suburbs and rural areas will come next.

“We aim to redefine the model for mobile emergency care,” said Demetri Yannopoulos, M.D., MRC’s director and a professor in the Medical School’s Cardiovascular Division, who will lead the project. “We are grateful for the planning grant, which will allow us to develop a sustainable plan that saves more lives.”

During the 12- to 18-month planning phase, the project team will build relationships with key stakeholders; develop a business plan; create an operations model, including two possible “super ambulance” designs; address regulatory challenges; and test the process, equipment, and technology.

“These super ambulances could be game-changing for people suffering from cardiac arrest,” said Walter Panzirer, a Trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “This grant gives the Minnesota Resuscitation Consortium an opportunity to study the feasibility of the super-ambulances, and develop a program that, if successful, could be duplicated in metropolitan areas across America.”

The Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Rural Healthcare Program supports rural health initiatives that make high-quality medical care more accessible across the Upper Midwest. Past support from the program outfitted many ambulances and hospitals across the state of Minnesota with mechanical CPR devices.

The devices improve the quality of CPR given to people suffering cardiac arrest, but we can do more, according to Yannopoulos. Even the latest CPR equipment will not reverse a blockage of blood flow to the heart—the most common cause of cardiac arrest. Treatment in a specially equipped cardiac catheterization laboratory to open the blocked artery and restore blood flow, however, can dramatically improve outcomes if the patient is transported to an equipped hospital in 30 minutes or less.

Under the new MRC-developed protocol, currently being used, people who experience cardiac arrest and blocked circulation away from a hospital are brought by ambulance to University of Minnesota Medical Center’s catheterization lab for intervention if they are within 30 minutes of the medical center. Forty-one percent of patients treated under this new protocol have survived with good neurological function. That compares with an eight percent survival rate for those who do not receive the intervention.

“The logical next step is to expand the protocol to individuals living outside the 30-minute window,” Yannopoulos said. “If we can reach patients faster by going directly to them and administering medication and other interventions en route to the hospital, we can offer better outcomes—for cardiac arrest, stroke, or other types of medical crises.”

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What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is an electrical malfunction of the heart that is immediate and unexpected. This loss of function disrupts the heart’s pumping, stopping blood flow to the rest of the body.

SCA is not a heart attack, which occurs when a blockage limits blood flow to a portion of the heart. A heart attack, however, can trigger an electrical malfunction that leads to sudden cardiac arrest. If not treated immediately, SCA can cause sudden cardiac death. Beginning cardiopulmonary resuscitation or chest compressions can improve the chances of survival until emergency personnel arrive.

About the University of Minnesota Medical School

The University of Minnesota Medical School is a world-class leader in medical education, research, and patient care. We have a decades-long foundation of educational excellence training the next generation of healthcare professionals. Our mission is to provide innovative training, research that advances medicine, and clinical care that improves the lives of our patients. For more information, please visit med.umn.edu.

About the Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more than $1.8 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. Helmsley’s Rural Healthcare Program funds innovative projects that use information technologies to connect rural patients to emergency medical care, bring the latest medical therapies to patients in remote areas, and provide state-of-the-art training for rural hospitals and EMS personnel. To date, this program has awarded more than $320 million to organizations and initiatives in the upper Midwest states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana. For more information, visit helmsleytrust.org.

CONTACT: Naomi McDonald, University of Minnesota Medical School, naomim@umn.edu, 612-301-9525.