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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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For the week of Dec 26, 2001 - Jan 1, 2002

  News

St. Lukeís gets different helicopter ambulance


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

St. Lukeís Regional Medical Center in Boise created its own helicopter ambulance service last Tuesday. The move could duplicate services already provided by an existing air ambulance company. Whether the services will compete and affect costs to patients is unclear.

"The short answer is weíre going to have two flight services really wanting to meet our needs," said Dr. Keith Sivertson, medical director for emergency services at St. Lukeís Wood River Medical Center, two miles south of Ketchum.

St. Lukeís said its new service will honor prepaid Life Flight memberships, which, for a small annual fee, help defray the $7,500 average cost of a helicopter ambulance ride.

Sivertson believes the two helicopter operators will not be able to pass along any financial loses that competition could create to patients, but others disagree.

Until now, the Boise-based St. Alphonsus Medical Centerís Life Flight has provided almost all of St. Lukeís helicopter ambulance needs. But on Dec. 18, St. Lukeís announced that it had contracted with Idaho Helicopters, a company that operates medical aircraft and provides pilots, and would create its own helicopter service similar to Life Flight. Idaho Helicopters is scheduled to have an aircraft equipped to St. Lukeís specifications, painted with the St. Lukeís logo and ready to fly by the spring.

St. Lukeís primary objective is to transport patients between hospitals, but the focus of Life Flight is to respond to emergencies, said St. Lukeís spokesperson Beth Toal. "I donít see this as a competitive decision, but a complimentary one. Life Flight will still be able to bring patients to" St. Lukeís.

But Chris Marselle, the director of St. Alphonsus Life Flight, said Life Flight has provided both hospital-to-hospital flights and emergency response for at least 15 years. She said St. Lukeís new service could "potentially" affect Life Flightís business. "There could be duplication of services, and that could be very costly to the community."

"Frankly, Iím surprised," said Marselle, who found out about St. Lukeís new contract in a newspaper article last Wednesday.

The complex contractual arrangements that make helicopter ambulances possible typically involve an aircraft vendor, an air ambulance company and a hospital.

Life Flight ended 15 years of contracts with vendor Idaho Helicopters in October and switched to a nationally run vendor. St. Lukeís new contract brings Idaho Helicopters back to St. Lukeís.

"We really like the service Idaho Helicopters provided, so we contracted directly with them," Toal said.

"What it boils down to is St. Lukeís needs were not being met by Life Flight," said Sivertson. In the Wood River Valley, for example, "people (here) are pretty damn noise-sensitive." With the new contract, St. Lukeís would be able to use a quieter helicopter with no tail rotor. The new helicopter would also be able to more easily carry two patients.

Sivertson said, however, that physicians would choose the best helicopter for each patientís needs regardless of the helicopterís hospital affiliation.

"We really donít care who meets those needsówhether itís St. Alís or St. Lukeís doesnít matter," he said.

Sivertson said he doesnít believe there is enough demand to support the two services long-term and that "within five years, weíll be back to one program."

St. Lukeís Wood River Medical Center transports four to six patients by helicopter each month.

 


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.