Saturday, May 04, 2013

Council Puts Medical Helicopter in Limbo

Plans to station an air-ambulance helicopter in Oceanside have hit a snag.

The City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday to send the proposed lease of property to REACH Air Medical Services of Santa Rosa back to the city manager for re-negotiation.

Fire Chief Darryl Hebert was a strong proponent of the plan to lease part of the Fire Training Center at 110 Jones Road to REACH for a heliport, saying it could reduce evacuation time for critically ill or injured patients.

One proponent said it would cut the time in half, from 12-14 minutes to six-eight minutes.

Currently, critical patients are flown from McClellan Palomar Airport in Carlsbad by Mercy Air Service of San Diego to the nearest trauma hospital, usually Scripps Memorial in La Jolla.

Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside is not an authorized trauma reception unit.

Hebert said Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, which is designated to receive trauma patients, is closer but serves such a large area already that Oceanside patients are to be sent to La Jolla.

Non-critical patients—an average of 39 a day, are taken by Fire Department ambulance to Tri-City.

Councilman Jerry Kern, one of the majority voting against the proposal, said the 269 patients flown last year are less than 1.5 percent of the total of nearly 18,000 patients transported by Fire Department paramedics every year.

He asked if there had been complaints about Mercy Air.

There have been a couple that he knows of, Hebert replied, but he did not have exact data about complaints.

Larry Hall, representing Mercy, said it should have been allowed to present a proposal of its own.

Ken Crossman, chairman of the city's Police and Fire Commission, an advisory body, said it had voted unanimously in favor of the REACH plan.

Larry Barry, speaking in opposition to the proposal, said REACH should pay to use the city's nearby airport and operate privately without city firefighters on board, as outlined in the proposal.

“It's not going to cost the city anything,” proponent Joan Brubaker said.

The council majority's main objection was to the proposed use of Fire Department personnel on the air ambulances.  It didn't mind the private-enterprise lease of city property for its own operations.

Councilman Gary Felien said, the city faces huge debt from employee retirement. “There's going to be a pension crisis,” he said.

Hebert insisted on wanting control of the operation by having his own employees on board and said he could do it with current personnel, not increasing retirement costs. “There is no fiscal impact to the City of Oceanside,” Hebert said.

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