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For the week of June 21 through June 27, 2000

Hospitals negotiate air ambulance service

St. Luke’s: effect on valley ‘remains to be seen’

"Having a second medical helicopter service provider available to serve south central Idaho would result in a enhanced level of availability to respond to emergencies in the Wood River Valley."

News release from St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center

Express Staff Writer

In a June 16 statement, St. Luke’s Boise headquarters announced that it is pursuing a partnership with the Twin Falls-based Magic Valley Regional Medical Center to operate an air ambulance program in the Magic Valley.

A similar statement by the Twin Falls hospital says that decision "paves the way" for the formation of a partnership with the Wood River Valley branch of St. Luke’s to operate the medical air service.

Magic Valley communications manager Monie Smith, during a Monday telephone call, said those two statements are "not necessarily mutually exclusive."

Meanwhile, St. Luke’s says its Wood River Valley representatives haven’t had any discussion with Magic Valley on the matter.

If anything is certain in the recent negotiations among St. Luke’s, Magic Valley and Access Air—the company that would provide the air ambulance service under the arrangement—it is that the entities involved have contradicted each other. At the same time, they say medical air transportation in the Wood River Valley will remain unaffected, or will possibly benefit from the planned changes.

During a Monday call, St. Luke’s Wood River Valley Medical Center CEO Jon Moses said he was reluctant to discuss the negotiations because, he said, "this is not a matter I’ve given any of my time to."

Speaking generally about the valley’s existing air ambulance service, Moses said the Boise-based St. Alphonsus Hospital’s Life Flight program has provided the majority of service with about 125 round-trip flights from Boise and Twin Falls each year.

Alternatively, Access Air president Jim Hutchens said during a Monday call that his company has only flown into the valley a couple of times.

In a statement released yesterday, St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise said the impact on the Wood River Valley of St. Luke’s and the Magic Valley hospital contracting with Access Air "remains to be seen."

"However," the statement continues, "having a second medical helicopter service provider available to serve south central Idaho would result in a enhanced level of availability to respond to emergencies in the Wood River Valley."

Currently, the Wood River Valley has no exclusive service contract with any air ambulance provider, Moses said. Rather, the local emergency medical personnel call whichever service is available and best suited for each emergency situation.

Following the recent announcements, St. Alphonsus spokesman David Ensunsa said in a statement that the hospital intends to continue operating the Life Flight service in the Magic Valley area, with a helicopter possibly stationed around the clock in Twin Falls.

That could mean Life Flight service that responds faster to the Wood River Valley than it has in the past, Ensunsa said.

Both St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s say the potential partnership would not affect the 2,500 people in the Wood River Valley who have memberships with Life Flight.

For an annual fee, those memberships pay for the difference between the cost of a Life Flight trip and the amount insurance companies pay.

Access Air says it may also sell memberships for its service.

St. Luke’s says that either helicopter service will take patients to the most suitable hospital for treatment, regardless of affiliations.

It is "highly unlikely" that St. Luke’s would work out an exclusive arrangement with a helicopter service that would prevent other services from operating in an area, St. Luke’s says.

However, "absolutely no discussions have been held on this topic," the St. Luke’s release says.


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