Rural communities without local trauma centers at risk without air options
■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Reporter
Air Service, Inc. in 1997. Mercy Air pilots and crew reside at Hemet’s Fire Station 4 located on Cawston Avenue next to the Hemet-Ryan Airport.
Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown emphasized the private/public partnership with Mercy Air and that the integrated system is what really reduces time. Brown explained “an integrated EMS response means rapid first response and a robust ground, and where appropriate, an air transport system to get patients to a specialty care center.” Later in the tour, Ruiz reinforced that comment, stating that the private/public relationship is crucial.
The pilots, crew and firefighters were thanked by Congressman Ruiz for their work and acknowledged their value. Flight Paramedic Mark Donahue gave Ruiz an overview and tour of the Mercy Air helicopter that operates out of the Hemet Air Medical base. Donahue also filled Ruiz in on some of the new techniques flight paramedics are utilizing.
If a community does not have the centers needed to treat patients, air medics are even more valuable. As an example, Ruiz’s district does not have a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). So when a child needs to be transported to a PICU, they must be transported out of the area. Ruiz stated that “this is a dilemma for rural America.” In emergency care, minutes matter.
Ruiz suggested that air medics perform a cost savings study to show that air medical transport is more cost effective in the long run. If a patient receives necessary treatment at the earliest possible point, further treatment, which can result in excessive costs, can often be eliminated because measures were implemented sooner at a properly equipped facility as a result of an expedited transport.
Hemet Councilwoman Karlee Meyer (District 1) was present at the event and reported back to the Hemet City Council later that day, stating, “Congressman Ruiz was talking about health care and the importance of the continuum of care for emergency services.”
Carolyn Mayle, Air Medics’ vice president of government affairs, discussed the importance of cost reimbursements, which she says haven’t been updated since the late 1990s. “Eight out of 10 patients transported are on Medicare or Medicaid. Air Methods has a financial aid program and works with health insurance companies to make sure that there is a fair reimbursement.”
Some states do not have a Level 1 or Level 2 Trauma Center. As one example, Mayle said that sometimes a patient must be transported to Colorado from Wyoming because Wyoming does not have a Level 1 Trauma Center. Rural areas are in most need of air medical bases because hospitals are not in close proximity. Even if a hospital is nearby, a trauma center may not be in close proximity. Hemet Valley Medical Center does not have a trauma center at this time.
Representatives for Air Medics said that the Hemet Air Medical Base transports about 18 patients per month. Overall, the air medical bases operated by Air Medics transport on average one patient per day per aircraft. The number of transports peak in the summer time.
To emphasize the point Ruiz made about the importance of air medical transport, on May 8, just one day prior to the event, Mercy Air responded to a two-vehicle rollover collision in East Hemet and airlifted Phillip Wills, 62, to Riverside University Health Services Medical Center. The other victim of the two-car collision, Bernardo Santana-Brito, was pronounced dead at the scene. Firefighters cut Wills out of the vehicle by using the “Jaws of Life.”