Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Life Saver medical helicopter base closes in Birmingham, Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -   A Life Saver medical transport base closed permanently Tuesday in Birmingham.

Birmingham was one of the first cities in the country to have Life Saver and medical helicopter was based at Carraway Medical Center. A regional manager for Life Saver's parent company says a lack of funding and uncertainty with the health care reform law was behind the decision.

The inside of a Life Saver helicopter is like a hospital on wings.

Within minutes, the chopper can take off and fly to an emergency scene like a car wreck, and provide critical care support.

"So we bring basically your ICU, your ER; we bring this to the patient," Traci Jones with Life Saver said.

For more than 30 years, that's what this chopper did. It would fly out from Carraway Medical Center in Birmingham, pick up patients and then bring them back downtown. But over time, the owners of Life Saver, Air Methods Corporation, saw a need for change.

"They realize the people that need air medical transport were out in the rural areas so they wanted to place helicopters outside the downtown area," Jones said.

"All the major accidents that go on in the Birmingham metro, it's much faster for ground units to take them in," Gary Boullion with Air Methods Corporation said.

So with choppers based in Rainbow City, Sylacauga and Opelika, company officials decided to shut the Birmingham base down.

"This is an economic decision, absolutely," Boullion said. "The volume at this base has dropped and dropped over time due to the changing market factors and the way things work."

Care Flight, which flies for Children's of Alabama, will continue to operate out of the Carraway Medical Center. And Life Saver officials say even with that portion of aid leaving downtown, they don't expect a major impact.

"We don't anticipate any reduced services for the metro area," Boullion said.

Besides the bases Rainbow City, Sylacauga and Opelika, Life Saver is also planning to open a Tuscaloosa base soon.

Fifteen employees were stationed at the Birmingham base and Air Methods Corporation officials say they're trying to place them elsewhere in the company.

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