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Emergency medical flights save lives

Air ambulance membership can reduce costs
Richard Hanners

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on July 3, 2018 11:11AM

AirLink personnel move equipment in front of a Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance.

Contributed photo/Jill Rosell

AirLink personnel move equipment in front of a Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance.

Contributed photoLife Flight Network started in 1978 as Emanuel Life Flight in Portland. Today, Life Flight Network is a nationally recognized air medical transport service with 25 bases serving Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana.

Contributed photoLife Flight Network started in 1978 as Emanuel Life Flight in Portland. Today, Life Flight Network is a nationally recognized air medical transport service with 25 bases serving Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana.

AirLink personnel during a mock drill with an infant in a Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance.

Contributed photo/Jill Rosell

AirLink personnel during a mock drill with an infant in a Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance.

AirLink’s Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance banks right.

Contributed photo/Jill Rosell

AirLink’s Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance banks right.

AirLink personnel move a stretcher in a mock exercise on top of the Oregon Health & Science University building in Portland.

Contributed photo/Bradley Sexton

AirLink personnel move a stretcher in a mock exercise on top of the Oregon Health & Science University building in Portland.

AirLink personnel move a stretcher during a mock drill in front of a Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance.

Contributed photo/Jill Rosell

AirLink personnel move a stretcher during a mock drill in front of a Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance.

AirLink personnel gather in front of the company’s two Eurocopter EC-135 helicopters and two Pilatus PC-12 fixed-wing aircraft.

Contributed photo/Jill Rosell

AirLink personnel gather in front of the company’s two Eurocopter EC-135 helicopters and two Pilatus PC-12 fixed-wing aircraft.


When a medical emergency occurs to residents in Grant County — whether it’s a heart attack or stroke, or the result of an accident at work, on the highway or at play in the woods — prompt critical care attention can mean the difference between life and death.

Area residents are accustomed to geographical isolation, surrounded by mountain passes that can be impacted by winter weather. But while braving a three-hour drive to Bend or La Grande might be acceptable for shopping, it’s not practical for medical emergencies.

Air ambulances can not only transport patients quickly from the scene of an accident to a trauma center, they also come equipped with all the medical supplies and equipment needed to act as a mobile intensive care unit for infants and elderly.

Common equipment for air ambulances can include medications, ventilators, electrocardiogram and monitoring units, cardiopulmonary resuscitation equipment and special stretchers. While the noise and cramped space make treatment difficult, air ambulances are equipped for advanced life support.

Grant County is served by two air ambulance services: Air Link Critical Care Transport and Life Flight Network. Both utilize fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters to transport medical patients to hospitals outside Grant County.


AirLink


AirLink began operations in 1985 as Air Life of Oregon with a Bell Long Ranger helicopter. In partnership with St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, the company grew over time into a regional air ambulance service, serving central, eastern and southern Oregon.

AirLink has flown more than 24,000 missions since its inception. The service was acquired by the Med-Trans Corp. about four years ago.

The company’s two Pilatus PC-12 turboprop planes are based at airports in Bend and Klamath Falls. Equipped with superior medical equipment and staffed with medical personnel and a pilot, the planes can fly up to 320 mph with a 2,000-mile range and carry up to two patients.

AirLink’s Eurocopter EC-135 and Bell 407 helicopters are based in Bend and Klamath Falls. With a top speed of 140 mph, the EC-135 can carry up to two patients along with medical personnel and a pilot.

AirLink hires pilots with at least 5,000 hours of flight time, compared to the industry standard of 3,000, AirLink manager Kristin Lingman told the Eagle. On board medical personnel include a nurse with at least five years of experience at a high-volume Level 1 trauma center along with a respiratory therapist.

“That way we provide a true ICU in the sky,” Lingman said.

Medical staff and pilots are staffed at AirLink’s base 24/7 so flights can be made at a moment’s notice. Lingman estimated AirLink flies to John Day about five or six times a week.

About 60-70 percent of patients are interfacility transports to a higher level of care, with the rest mostly pre-hospital patients, Lingman said. AirLink is also the only air ambulance in Oregon that transports transplant patients where time is of the essence — the replacement organs may have already been removed, and the recipient may be very sick.

Lingman noted that AirLink will transport patients anywhere the treating doctor wants — not just Bend. If a patient needs to go to a Level 1 trauma center but the Oregon Health & Science University trauma center in Portland is full, then AirLink will transport the patient to Boise or a similar facility, Lingman said.


Life Flight


Life Flight, the nation’s largest not-for-profit air ambulance service, serves Oregon, Washington, Idaho and western Montana. Starting in 1978 as Emanuel Life Flight, one of the first hospital-based air ambulance services on the West Coast and the fourth in the U.S., the company transported 121 patients in its first year using an Allouette-3 helicopter.

The nonprofit is owned by a consortium of Oregon Health & Science University, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and Providence Health & Services.

“Air ambulances provide rural locations critical care they would not normally receive,” Life Flight regional director Michael Weimer told the Eagle.

Life Flight’s fleet now includes AugustaWestland Koala helicopters capable of flying up to 175 mph along with Eurocopter EC-135 helicopters based in Pendleton, La Grande, Ontario, Redmond and other locations.

Life Flight’s Pilatus PC-12 fixed-wing aircraft are based in La Grande, Boise, Idaho, and other locations. The helicopters typically operate within a 175-mile radius of their bases, while the fixed-wing aircraft can transport patients across the U.S. and abroad.

Weimer estimated Life Flight aircraft fly to Grant County about once a week, with fixed-wing aircraft landing at Grant County Regional Airport and helicopters landing at Blue Mountain Hospital or even on highways at the scene of an accident.

“Even though they fly at a lower speed, helicopters are the fastest way to transport patients because they fly directly to a hospital,” Weimer said.


Memberships


Typical health insurance plans may not cover all air ambulance service cost, which can be expensive, so air ambulance companies offer memberships to help residents in rural areas plan for those costs.

“Few families realize that emergency air transportation can easily cost $15,000 or more, and it may not be covered in full (or at all) by your health insurance plan,” the AirLink website states.

AirLink is part of the AirMedCare Network, and members transported by any of the network providers will not receive a bill for the flight and any supplies used. Membership for AirLink costs $85 per year and includes all household members.

AirLink leaves it up to the household to define its membership, Lingman said. The company also follows a philosophy of “compassionate billing,” Lingman said, understanding that patients on their flights often face serious financial problems in addition to medical issues.

“We don’t use aggressive billing practices,” she said.

AirLink membership is valid across 28 states and more than 300 base locations. There is no limit to the number of flights a member can have in a year, but flights must be considered medically necessary. If a patient is transported to Bend and later needs to continue on to Portland, AirLink membership will cover both flights.

AirLink also offers a ground-based ambulance membership called FireMed for $50 per year that is honored by the Blue Mountain Hospital Ambulance service in John Day.

For more information about AirLink, visit online at www.airlinkcct.org or call 541-241-4772.

Membership in the Life Flight Network costs $65 per year, but from June 13 through Sept. 3, Life Flight will offer $40 annual memberships for new members in recognition of its 40th anniversary.

Membership covers spouses or domestic partners, dependents claimed on an income tax return, including elderly or disabled family members living in the same household.

Members will not incur out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary emergent flights with network providers or reciprocal partners. That includes flights that continue on to a higher level trauma center.

“We’re one of the few air ambulance services that do not require commercial insurance to qualify for membership,” Weimer said.

For more information about Life Flight, visit online at www.lifeflight.org or call 800-982-9299.

AirLink and Life Flight do not have reciprocity agreements. If a person had a membership in one service but it wasn’t available during an emergency, the person would have to rely on the other service without the benefits of membership.







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