Thursday, June 12, 2014

Efforts off the ground for possible helicopter

Santa Rosa County could have its own medical helicopter if the proposal passes Thursday at the county commissioner meeting. Monday, Jason Kimbrell, senior leader of Lifeguard Ambulance Service, pitched adding an air ambulance to its emergency response capabilities through a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN).

According to Hunter Walker, county administrator, Lifeguard already has the exclusive COPCN for ground ambulance service in Santa Rosa County. However, Air Methods Corporation, operating Life Flight, holds the COPCN for emergency air service. Aaron Brown, representative of Air Methods Corporation, argued Santa Rosa County hasn’t needed its own helicopter and demand for one has decreased over time since 2012. He also said Air Methods has two helicopters for the county and two other backups available. “Within 45 minutes, you could have four helicopters sitting in this county,” Brown said. Commissioner Bob Cole later said if he was hurting he wouldn’t want to lie 45 minutes waiting for helicopter services.

Kimbrell said helicopter requests have declined because Lifeguard already has quick response times. “Mathematically, it’s very difficult to justify the utilization of a helicopter coming from Escambia County or Crestview that would make sense.”

According to Kimbrell, the helicopter Lifeguard would use is unlike any Life Flight or AIRHeart model. “This is a fully integrated medical helicopter,” Kimbrell said.

According to Kimbrell, Lifeguard’s air service would be a benefit not just for emergency response but to the community as a whole. “We do propose bringing 18 new jobs,” he said, by way of the flight crew. “When we started in 2007, we had about 67 employees. Now we’re the eighth largest employer in Santa Rosa County,” he said. Kimbrell also said the helicopter could be used for career fairs and local youth could come see the helicopter used to service their county. Kimbrell also said the chopper would be useful post hurricanes. “Post hurricanes, this could be used for damage assessments. This is something that Santa Rosa County citizens could call their own,” he said.

If the commission grants it, Lifeguard would be responsible for all emergency medical services, ground and air.

The presentation wrapped up with Kimbrell answering two questions from Cole. “Will this cost the citizens of Santa Rosa County anything? Will this improve the service to our citizens?” Kimbrell answered “Yes,” and “Absolutely,” respectively.

Cole said unlike medical services in some counties, Lifeguard is efficient enough not to need subsidies from Santa Rosa County and operates from insurance claims. Commissioner Jim Melvin, before either men presented, said, “So this would just add air service to what we need and this is a badly needed service.”