As I was sipping a white chocolate mocha and checking up on the latest aeromedical news this Monday evening, I noticed that trusted Bermudan news source The Royal Gazette published a story forecasting a troubled future for Bermuda’s only air ambulance service (at least, the only ambulance actually based in bermuda). Not a very upbeat way to start the week in air medical news, but a very important story to blog about nonetheless.
According to the article, Bermuda is at risk of losing their sole on-island air ambulance service unless an investor comes forward to save it by purchasing it. The cost of purchasing the Bermuda air ambulance? $2 million.
Bermuda could have to rely solely upon overseas operators unless an investor purchases the company.
The same company had to stop flying temporarily back in 2011 because the owners simply could not afford to keep the service running. They have been hoping for an outside investor to take an interest in their service, but so far, that phone hasn’t rung.
Vice president, chief flight nurse, and owner of Bermuda Air Medivac (BAM) Eloise Bell told The Royal Gazette that the company would most likely end service permanently next month. She is yet to make the final decision, but isn’t hopeful that the service will keep flying. She says that just to start up the service again would cost around $1 million alone.
The Bermuda air ambulance seems to be having trouble competing with other air ambulance services overseas that have been offering cheaper flights. Unfortunately, BAM would most likely not be able to reduce their operating costs enough to lower their fees.
Obviously, without an air ambulance based on the island nation, patients in Bermuda will need to wait for a medical jet or prop to arrive from the United States, typically originating from an air ambulance service in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia — the nearest U.S. states.
Even a Florida air ambulance, however, will take some time to reach a patient in Bermuda. For instance, an air ambulance travelling from Miami to Bermuda will need to travel over 1,000 miles one-way before the crew can transport the patient. An air ambulance leaving from the U.S. — especially a non-jet — may take hours before it arrives on the island, making completion of a flight within the “Golden Hour” something of a moot possibility, despite the rather elastic definition of that so-called hour.
The only exceptions — and I’d go so far as to estimate that they would be irregular exceptions at best — would be those occasions an internationally-based air ambulance, with available capacity, already happens to be in Bermuda when the patient requires transport. But patients should never have to rely on luck.
Will Bermuda’s single airport, L.F. Wade International, be seeing even more inbound flights from international air ambulances?
While many air ambulance services exist in the nearby Southeast U.S., only a handful use jets, and even out of those, they must be available and able to fly overseas to transport a patient. In the case of high-risk/critical patients, they must have the advanced equipment and trained specialists available as well.
Ignoring other factors for the moment, even with the fastest jets in use today by Carolina, Georgia, and Florida air ambulances, it would be difficult to substitute for the speed of an air ambulance already based on the island itself — an important concern, as time is of the essence when transporting a critical patient.
The Bermudan government has not, so far, expressed an interest in helping to sustain the air ambulance service. Undoubtedly, it would be a miracle for BAM if the services received some kind of assistance, public or private, to keep it running. It would also be highly beneficial for critical-care patients in Bermuda to not have to rely solely upon U.S. and Canadian air ambulance options to make the overseas trip whenever they’re in need of the highest level of medical care.
The Ministry of Health in Bermuda stated that they are “concerned that there is no on-island air ambulance service. It’s important to note that air ambulance services are still available, but there is additional time needed, as the plane must come from the US.” They added that they would welcome outside investment in BAM.
It’s also possible that some of BAM’s obstacles have been due to the choices — right or wrong — of insurers, who have differing rates of using the local air ambulance service. Some Bermudan insurance entities seem to have made an effort to use BAM, while others did not use them at all last year, favoring the overseas providers.
Air ambulance services in Bermuda are not regulated, and thus insurers can choose to use any company they prefer for medical evacuations. It’s important to note that we have no knowledge of why these individual choices were made; they could have been made due to high-risk patient requirements, accreditation, cost, or other factors entirely.
You may recall the blog we posted last July involving the Bermuda air ambulance and the air ambulance bidding war that takes place involving insurers and qualified vendors (vendors has always seemed like a rather odd term to represent air ambulance companies, but I’ll use health insurers’ terminology here). Essentially, that blog explored the possibility that BAM could have been unable to take on some flights they were perfectly qualified to handle due to being underbid by overseas providers. We also discussed how this kind of business boded for the type of/expediency of care that critical-care patients in Bermuda received.
What may be extra frustrating about this news for some is that it’s not even that there is a low or even moderate need for air ambulance service in Bermuda, as some here in the States might infer. The need for air medical transport in and out of Bermuda is actually fairly frequent. Many times, BAM has apparently been unable to do flights simply because its single plane was already occupied with another transport or down for scheduled maintenance.
In addition, BAM has not been able to take some flights where highly specialized crew members are needed, such as transports involving high-risk premature babies, leaving overseas air ambulances as the only option.
Regardless of the reasons BAM has had to cease providing their services, we at Air Ambulance Weekly always feel it’s unfortunate when any life-saving air medical service that appears to operate with strong ethics and concern for patient care and safety is grounded.
What is your personal opinion? Should BAM be saved? If so, what could save it? Is private investment the only option? Could some kind of charity help pad the air ambulance’s operating costs until the outlook hopefully becomes better for the company? Let us know what you think.