SEBRING - Aeromed will be grounded, if Highlands County commissioners agree Tuesday with EMS Director Harvey Craven.
Aeromed is the company that has flown critically sick or injured patients from hospitals or accidents to urban trauma centers since 1994. However, on July 31, the Tampa General Hospital-owned company is severing its five-year contract with Rocky Mountain Holdings and will lease helicopters from a different company.
"We felt it was time for a change," Tampa General Hospital Communications Director John Dunn said. The hospital owns Aeromed.
The unexpected result: County Attorney Ross Macbeth informed Craven that the certificate which allows Aeromed to transport patients from Highlands is jointly held by Aeromed and Rocky Mountain Holdings, which operates as Air Methods. Since their partnership will dissolve on July 31, however, that leaves Highlands County without an air ambulance service, Craven told county commissioners in a memo dated June 23.
And since both Aeromed and Air Methods have applied for the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, Craven went with the company that applied first - Air Methods, on April 30.
"It is (Highlands County Emergency Medical Service's) position that the current air medical helicopter call volume from Highlands County can only support granting one Class 4 Air Ambulance application to operate in this county," Craven recommended.
"HCEMS has concluded the investigation and recommends to the board of county commissioners that it deny the application submitted by" Tampa General, Craven also wrote in a July 8 memo.
Dunn agreed that only one air ambulance is needed in Highlands County, but he questioned the competition's expertise. Rocky Mountain is a helicopter provider, whereas Tampa General is in the medical business, he said.
Air Methods "is a highly qualified and sophisticated national air ambulance operator, having provided emergency air ambulance services since 1982 and now operating hundreds of air ambulance programs throughout the country," said a letter from Edward Rupert, Air Methods senior vice president of eastern operations.
Rocky Mountain "will ensure the aircraft will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with two medical personnel," a memo to Highlands County said. "This will include a critical care flight nurse and a flight paramedic."
But where will Rocky Mountain get its personnel? Dunn asked. Tampa General is a not-for-profit Florida hospital, he noted; Rocky Mountain is a for-profit corporation in Englewood, Colo.
"Air Methods will not be contracted to provide service for one particular hospital," Rupert pointed out. "Air Methods may transport patients to any hospital or health care system in and around Highlands County, thereby ensuring patients are transported to the most qualified facility for treatment."
It's a common criticism that Aeromed prefers Tampa General, Dunn said. However, crews are instructed to transport patients to the nearest and most qualified trauma center. For example, burn patients go to burn centers.
"Transfer flights between hospitals are determined by the hospital that transfers the patient, not by Aeromed or by TGH," said a fact sheet Dunn provided. "Scene transports are determined by EMS protocols, not by Aeromed or TGH... Between Oct. 1, 2012 and last month, a majority of scene calls taken by Aeromed went to hospitals other than TGH."
When Affordable Transport, a non-emergency ambulance company, requested a license on Tuesday, Craven recommended the commissioners comply because there was no certificate of need. "That was a totally different kind of ballgame. They met all the requirements. The county has to grant a license. There is a certificate of need for a helicopter."
The final decision whether to grant a certificate to Rocky Mountain, Aeromed or both belongs the county commissioners, Craven said.