U.S. residents in the mountainous, spread-out regions of the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West will now have more air ambulance coverage to look forward to. Life Flight Network, a not-for-profit air ambulance service headquartered in the Northwest United States, made the announcement last week that they will open a new helicopter base in Redmond, Oregon this Wednesday.“Our decision to open a base in Redmond follows substantial research and dialogue with area healthcare professionals to confirm bringing our air medical transport capabilities to the area will enhance patient care,” stated Michael Griffiths, CEO of Life Flight Network. “When we took into account Central Oregon’s population growth has more than doubled since the area’s first and only helicopter was placed in service almost 30 years ago, the decision to make the investment in a Redmond base became clear.”
The “Intermountain West” — some of the most unforgiving terrain and lowest population densities in the U.S. can be found here, making air ambulance services a necessity.
Life Flight is one of many air ambulance services that provides air and ground critical care transportation for seriously ill or injured patients from the scene of an accident or from one hospital to another.
Some residents – especially those in the air medical community – in the area are surprised at the air medical service’s move – likening it to a game of chess being played by Life Flight and the area’s existing air ambulance provider for decades, AirLink.
Bob Gomes, who oversees AirLink’s operations, said himself “With an average of 40 (helicopter) flights a month – that’s 1.3 flights a day – I’m not sure there’s a need for a second carrier in Central Oregon.”
However, Tim McLaren, Fire Chief at Crooked River Ranch Fire & Rescue was quoted as saying “Having a Life Flight Network base as an additional resource in Redmond would allow my department to have greater flexibility and ease the challenge of requesting critical air medical transport. How can you argue against providing timely critical care which meets the needs of the service our residents have come to expect from us?”
Jeremy Ast, the deputy chief, Administration at Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District added that “We cover a very large ambulance service area and our ability to utilize air medical transport resources can make the difference between life and death for a critically ill or injured patient. Traumatic injury patients have historically been the primary users of medical helicopters, but Life Flight Network is seeing an increased need to provide time-sensitive transport for patients suffering heart attacks and strokes as treatment options for these medical emergencies evolve [sic].”
While Gomes said in an interview with KTVZ that AirLink’s “helicopter volumes have gone down 30 percent over the last three years,” he doesn’t blame it on the economy – or soaring health care costs.
“It’s hard to say the economy has played a part — when you’re critical, you’re critical,” he said.
Various factors dictate whether a medical helicopter launches, from severity of the injuries to distance from the nearest hospital.“You don’t always have speed,” Gomes told KTVZ. “You do have to have critical care skills” at the site of the emergency as soon as possible.
Emergency calls will be directed to whichever air ambulance service is available and closer to the site of the need.
What about Air Ambulance Program Members?
Life Flight Network has provided air ambulance services for well over 30 years and has the largest air medical membership program of any air ambulance service in the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West regions of the United States. Given the largely rural, mountainous geography of the latter region, the success of such a large air ambulance membership program is not surprising.
AirLink also offers a membership plan for members and their families, aimed at being affordable and protecting those members from unexpected air medical transport expenses – which can otherwise be a substantial expense depending on the circumstances of the transport.
Interestingly, following the opening of the new base, existing memberships with either AirLink or Life Flight air ambulance are expected to be honored by both companies. Therefore, residents who have an existing membership with one of the two companies need not fear being relegated to that particular service if an air ambulance from the “competition” is nearby and available.
More Coverage for the Region
Life Flight is planning to assign 14 employees to the Redmond, Oregon base, including flight nurses, flight paramedics, pilots and mechanics. According to a company release, the pay for these highly-skilled personnel is projected to exceed over $1 million per year. These crew members and the rotor-wing aircraft assigned to the new Oregon base will be at the ready to handle air medical transports around the clock.
Not slowing down, Life Flight is also planning to open a brand new helicopter base in Sandpoint, Idaho, next week, citing that substantial area research and dialogue with community and healthcare leaders indicated an air medical transport need. By the first of the month, they will operate air medical bases in 12 locations across the states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, utilizing their company fleet of 11 helicopters, 5 fixed-wing air ambulances, and 4 ground ambulances.
Life Flight Network is owned by Legacy Health System, Providence Health System-Oregon, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and Oregon Health and Science University. For those interested, Life Flight’s rotor-wing air medical services are provided by Air Methods, while their fixed-wing air medical services are provided by Aero Air, AvCenter, and Conyan Aviation.
AirLink’s air ambulance fleet includes both rotor and fixed-wing capabilities as well. They are affiliated with St. Charles Health System and Mountain View Hospital, with aviation services are provided by Metro Aviation.
If you are a resident or member of the air medical community in this region of the United States, please let us know your thoughts and opinions regarding this blog post in the comments below. Given the numbers cited by Bob Gomes from AirLink, is an additional air medical program needed in this specific area, or not?