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Medical helicopter service to build launchpad west of PRMC

in Biz Blog by

A new medical helicopter base will begin operations in Paris in 2017.

Air Evac Lifeteam finalized a building permit with the city last week, and workers could be seen Tuesday morning unloading construction equipment. Shelly Schneider, a public relations manager for the company, said the construction should be completed around 90 to 120 days once they ‘break ground.’

Air Evac Lifeteam is an air ambulance service based out of Missouri that operates from 128 locations in 15 different states. They currently operate out of Hugo, Oklahoma, as well as Greenville, Sherman, and 23 other cities in Texas.

The base will be located at the site of the Old Pavilion West building’s parking lot on the corner of Lewis Lane and Deshong Drive. The Pavilion West building will be demolished at a later date. The city has not yet received the forms for its demolition, said Paris Community Development Coordinator Ashley Fendley.

Billy Brooks, the program director for the Paris base, said the helicopter will remain in a hangar until needed, at which point it will be pulled out for launch.

“The process takes between three and six minutes to pull the helicopter out and launch it,” Brooks told Lamar County commissioners during a Sept. 26 meeting.

Membership services

Air Evac Lifeteam offers membership services for $65 a year for an entire household through AirMedCare Network (AMCN).

AMCN has over 260 air medical bases across 22 states in their network which will accept the membership during a “life or limb threatening emergency,” Schneider said. Participating companies are EagleMed, REACH, Air Evac, and Med-Trans.

The cost for a ride in a medical helicopter averages about $37,000 nationally, Schneider said.

Not all health insurance covers the cost of a medical airlift, and many folks don’t know whether theirs does or not, said Paris EMS Director Kent Klinkerman, explaining that his family opted for a membership.

If it is not covered by a person’s health insurance, this membership allows a person being airlifted to ride at a discounted cost. And as long as a person shares the same physical address as the planholder, they’re covered.

For those with an insurance plan that pays the cost of a helicopter ride, AMCN bills the insurance company. Nonmembers would incur the remaining costs not covered.

A membership, however, covers any costs not paid for by the insurance. “Whatever your insurance pays is considered payment in full,” Schneider said.

Controversy

In 2007, Air Evac Lifeteam was the center of an FBI investigation regarding billing practices and health care compliance. They were cleared in that investigation in 2009.

And though Air Evac was then determined to be in compliance with the law and their service is greatly appreciated in the Paris area, the billing methods that air ambulance services use are the sources of agony for many folks across the country.

There are several cases worth noting.

One of those is that of one woman who was hit head-on by a DUI driver in Lexington, Oklahoma and careflighted by Air Methods to Oklahoma City. Her insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, paid $5,980.08 leaving the woman to pay the remaining $32,979.67.

In another incident referenced in that same report by KFOR NewsChannel 4, a patient was billed $37,106.69 by Air Evac Lifeteam for a flight. The patient’s insurance offered to settle the bill for $10,067.93, but Air Evac Lifeteam refused, accepting only $5,000 from the insurance and billing the patient for the remaining $32,106.69.

“The patient is on a plan to pay $50 a month for the next 53 years,” Ali Meyer wrote in the article.

Air Evac Lifeteam is currently one of four air ambulance companies named in what could become class action lawsuit that seeks to rectify the billing practices of the emergency service, KFOR reported in July.

How the medical airlift process works

Klinkerman said Paris EMS calls for an airlift when a person needs a higher level of medical care that is not available locally. This can be at the scene of a car accident, a sick-call, or from the hospital to another hospital.

When EMS arrives, they assess the victim and determine if the situation meets the criteria for a medical airlift, according to Klinkerman.

For example, a helicopter may be called if a person has suffered a gunshot or a stab wound to the torso.

“We don’t have neuro or trauma to the level that they do over in the (Dallas) Metroplex,” Klinkerman said.

While the helicopter is on the way, EMS is on the scene, “starting IVs, giving them medications, maintaining the airway, (and) monitoring their cardiac activity,” Klinkerman said. A patient with severe trauma only has a short window of time to be treated, and calling a helicopter to the scene — as opposed to transporting by ground to the nearest hospital, which may not offer the high level of care needed in those situations — saves time and lives.

Dispatch contacts the nearest base first, Klinkerman said, which would be Hugo for Lamar County residents. If that station’s helicopter is unavailable on a call or because it’s on the other side of a storm, the next closest service is contacted, he said.

Those are Flight-For-Life in Winnsboro and another Air Evac Lifeteam base in Greenville and East Texas Medical Center operates a helicopter based out of Mount Pleasant.

Service times vary depending on where a person is and which helicopters are available, Klinkerman explained.

In the past month, a helicopter flying from Hugo to Pat Mayse Lake took 18 minutes from the time the airlift was called in to the moment they landed on the scene, he said.

“The one in Winnsboro can be here in about 28 minutes, and if you’re on the South side of the county — say you’re down into Cunningham — that’s even closer,” Klinkerman said.

Brooks said that from the time an accident happens, is reported and the airlift is dispatched, precious time has passed. He elaborated that if a storm is between the nearest helicopter and the emergency scene, the helicopter can’t make it to it’s destination.

“Everyone knows how the weather is around here — you can have a huge cloud (on one side) and nothing (on the other). And it can be a nightmare if your helicopter is on the other side of that mounting storm that they can’t fly through,” Brooks said.

The more helicopters that are available to our area gives EMS the opportunity to get the emergency patient into the air and on their way to medical care, with fewer chances of delay. And the quicker a patient arrives to a facility for advanced care, the better their chances are for recovery.

RELATED NEWS BLURBS:

  • AirMedCare Network gave a presentation Sept. 26 to Lamar County Commissioners Court on the option of a payroll deduction plan for discounted air ambulance service for elected county officials and employees. During that meeting, a representative from AMCN said county officials and employees could enroll in the service at any time.
  • The cost for Lamar County employees would be $50 per person or $65 per household, and the county does not get charged for participating in the payroll reduction plan, they said.
  • AMCN will hold a membership drive during the pumpkin festival tomorrow, Oct. 22
  • Air Evac Lifeteam will also be building a base in Idabel, Oklahoma, Brooks said during that meeting.

Colton is the founder of Paris Free Press. He was born and raised in Paris, Texas, graduated from North Lamar ISD and Paris Junior College with an Associate Degree. He lives in Lamar County with his loving girlfriend and their three dogs and two cats. He has once been uncredited in The Paris News.

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