Chapel Hill, N.C. — A new base for one of UNC Health Care's Carolina Air Care helicopters fits into a larger plan to connect patients in rural North Carolina with the UNC system's new heart and vascular hospital in Raleigh, according to a spokesman for the hospital system.
UNC has based one of its three Carolina Air Care helicopters in temporary space at the Wayne Executive Jetport since October. The Council of State, a 10-member panel chaired by Gov. Roy Cooper, is expected to sign off Tuesday on a lease for a permanent hangar space at the airport for the helicopter and a traditional ambulance.
"Heart and vascular is a big part of what's driving the volume of patients," said Alan Wolf, a spokesman for UNC Health Care.
Eastern North Carolina is home to an aging population, he said. As well, there are higher incidents of diabetes and obesity that lead to heart- and vascular-related diseases.
So, in addition to answering calls for emergency services, the helicopter and ambulance based in Wayne County will bring patients who need specialized treatments from Wayne Memorial in Goldsboro, Nash Health in Rocky Mount, Johnston Health in Smithfield and Clayton and Wilson Health to an about-to-open heart and vascular hospital in Raleigh. The new North Carolina Heart and Vascular Hospital is opening at the main Raleigh campus of UNC REX Healthcare in March.
UNC added Wayne Memorial Hospital to its network in 2015. Health systems run by the likes of UNC and Duke University are reaching out from their urban bases through affiliation agreements into rural areas. While those affiliations allow UNC to beef up the capability of rural hospitals, Wolf said that there is some specialty care that is available only in a few places.
"If it's a service or something that can't be done out at Wayne Memorial, we want to make it as easy as possible for patients to get here," Wolf said.
The new permanent air transport hangar and crew space is expected to be available for use by October.