Escambia Inks Agreement For Medical Helicopters With A Goal Of The Fastest Response

July 24, 2021

Escambia County has entered into a “first call agreement” for medical helicopter service that is designed to make sure the closest helicopter is dispatched to a scene.

The no cost agreement between Escambia County and Med-Trans Corporation, which operates ShandsCair, will allow the county to contact ShandsCair first as its preferred medical helicopter transport. ShandsCair will then dispatch the closest medical helicopter, whether it be ShandsCair from Milton, LifeFlight from Pensacola, or Air Care from Atmore.

“We’ve been doing it for a year and a half, and it’s been working very well,” interim Escambia County Public Safety Director Eric Gilmore said. “And we have been getting the closest helo to the site.” Since October 2020, LifeFlight has been responded 379 times to calls in Escambia County, ShandsCair 113 times and AirCare 16 times under the plan without the formal contract in place.

Zachary Nicholson, the regional development manager for ShandsCair, said when Escambia County calls for a medical helicopter, it goes to ShandsCair’’s dispatch center in Gainesville.

“One (dispatcher) is calling and checking with the other company as far as who is the closest, while the other is checking with the other three aircraft that we have in our assets. So it actually is streamlining and taking that workload off Escambia County dispatchers,” Nicholson said. “We are actually saving time and that’s where our citizens benefit. Every second counts.”

But LifeFlight’s parent company Air Methods is concerned their helicopter might not always be called when appropriate.

“The terms of the agreement is not at all how it is being portrayed to the local media and to commissioners,” said Tony Fleming on behalf of LifeFlight “This agreement is not a dispatch agreement with Shands or the University of Florida. The contract is with Med-Trans, which is also a private company that is a vendor of ShandsCair. The agreement is not dispatch at all. The agreement provides for Med-Trans aircraft to be dispatched first, and other aircraft only when suitable.”

“We are concerned about this because if this is enacted in present form, Baptist LifeFlight legally doesn’t have to be dispatched even if we are the closest, most appropriate aircraft. That is a disservice to the citizens of this county who find themselves in a medical emergency,” Fleming said. “The worst part is patients will never know if they suffer a negative outcome due to a delay in dispatch, according to what is legally allowable under the terms of this contract agreement as currently written.”

“I can put fear in anybody and tell you it is going to be bad if we don’t do this or we don’t do that,” Gilmore said in response. “The bottom line is we are trying to get the right helicopter, the closest helicopter to the scene.”

“I’ve been on the scene in the north of this county waiting for LifeFlight to come to the scene 22 minutes when I’ve got a helicopter in Atmore, Alabama, four minutes away,” he said. “Since we’ve done first call, my north end crews have to hustle to get to the scene to get ready to land the bird because it is coming at a (faster) rate that LifeFlight.”

“At the end of the day I just want the closest helicopter,” he said.

Commissioner Doug Underhill said he and his wife Wendy just bought a farm in Escambia County, Florida, just south of Atmore.

“If I am working on that farm and get injured, I want a helo coming out of Atmore,” Underhill said. “I don’t want to wait for one to fly up from here (Pensacola). It’s personal for me because it is there.”

The Escambia County Commission unanimously approved the first call agreement. It will be scrutinized at least quarterly to make sure it is working as intended.

Pictured top: ShandsCair responds to a wreck near Northview High School in Bratt. Pictured inset above: LifeFlight lands at a Highway 29 traffic crash south of Century. Pictured below: MedStar Air Care 2 from Atmore, Alabama, responds to a traffic accident on Rockaway Creek Road in Walnut Hill. photos, click to enlarge.


14 Responses to “Escambia Inks Agreement For Medical Helicopters With A Goal Of The Fastest Response”

  1. cc on July 27th, 2021 11:28 am

    just wanted to put out there October of 2020 I was transported from Walnut Hill to West Florida hospital via air method it took 1 hour 1 minute from the time they called to the time they landed back at West Florida hospital. just beware these air ambulance charges a unreasonable amount I was billed $57,181 in which my insurance company denied claim because a lot of insurance policies does not cover helicopter, only covers ambulance rides. the only reason I’m posting this is so maybe it helps someone else.

  2. Paul on July 27th, 2021 8:56 am

    Fact – Air ambulances fly with both a nurse and advanced paramedic and have more tools/drugs/experience in the helicopter as compared to an ambulance. Sometimes the helicopter crew has to do a life-saving intervention on-scene, delaying takeoff, that would have not happened if it was just the ambulance crew. So, even though it seems that the helicopter did not save much time (though, it usually does), the interventions and treatment performed by the highly- trained and experienced crew make for a positive outcome that would have been otherwise if the ambulance had not called the helicopter. Thanks to the trained helicopter crew and the ambulance crew knowing when to call them.

    Fact – air ambulance helicopters are expensive to operate, the pilots, paramedics, and nurses are more experienced than most, and it costs money to maintain this capability on an on-call status. Add this to the fact that emergency services lawfully cannot be denied and there are so many people who do not pay (so those who can pay have to foot the bill for those who don’t).

    Fact – I’d rather be an indebted living person than a debt-free corpse.

    Fact – there’s a lot of improvement that can still be made in the emergency medicine industry, in our medical system, and in our society as a whole. But, in today’s environment, this is a good move by Escambia County.

    Fact – some of the above is actually “opinion” (though the first two points are definitely “fact”) so don’t take my word for it. Research on your own.

    Fact – eat a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, reduce your sugar and protein intake, exercise, and turn off the TV and you’ll be a lot healthier old person and will likely avoid a lot of acute illness (obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, all identified as associated with acute COVID infection, by the way) and, hence, avoid a ride to the hospital in a helicopter or ambulance.

  3. Century on July 25th, 2021 10:29 am

    It’s a shame they cost so much. When people travel from state to state the life flight cost lot more.

  4. Candace on July 25th, 2021 5:31 am

    The top picture is a picture of my daughter when she was in an accident in front of the school. Our bill was $49,955.32. We were told that it would be faster for her to fly then go on the ambulance (which was already there). We got to the hospital at the same time as she did. This was in Sept last year. We are still fighting the them. The car insurance paid over $10k, the health insurance settled for over $23k and now they are asking us to pay the rest. Which our health insurance is saying they should not be asking us for that since they settled. Which the billing people, they say one thing and then do something else.

  5. Can’t say on July 24th, 2021 10:17 pm

    If you think a helicopter ride is $15,000.00 you are way out of touch with reality. In 2015 my grandmother was flown from the Century -Flomaton area to a Pensacola hospital. The bill was for $59,695.00. It was a $32,000.00 lift fee and over $800.00 per statute mile. There is insurance available for flights. But each company has their own insurance. So if your insured through MedTrans, Air Methods will not accept it. Also because NO helicopters have contracts with commercial insurance. So if your insurance only covers $7,000.00 of that bill, YOU are responsible for the remaining balance.

    Before you say that I don’t know what I’m talking about…. I flew for one of these companies for over 10 years. I left on my own terms and could go back to work there. So I’m not bitter. I just decided after I saw the real charges (my grandmother), this was ethically not in line with my personal beliefs when people are in need and don’t know the charges. Someone should also not have to make a decision on their loved one based on these outrageous charges.

  6. Robert M on July 24th, 2021 6:24 pm

    The 95 dollar figure is only if you have the right insurance. Typically, if your policy does not cover helo transport you will be billed three times the insured price and they will come after you. My desire is for the prices to be available to the public just like the hospitals have to publish their prices.

  7. Resident on July 24th, 2021 5:49 pm

    “The average out of pocket cost for Baptist Lifeflight for escambia county residents was $95 dollars last year. ”

    I have a really, really BCBS plan with low copays and deductibles. But ambulances and air ambulances (helicopters) are only covered at 80% in or out of network. So a $15,000 flight, negotiated down to an “insurance rate” of about $10,000 left me with $2,000 out of pocket.

    LifeFlight…show me the $95 plan!

  8. Not all are equal! on July 24th, 2021 3:39 pm

    The average out of pocket cost for Baptist Lifeflight for escambia county residents was $95 dollars last year. They are in network with a lot of major insurances. This was stated in the county commissioner meeting two weeks ago.

  9. Willis on July 24th, 2021 3:01 pm

    So Mr. Underhill has bought property in D5 ?

  10. Citizen on July 24th, 2021 1:35 pm

    The bad news is Underhill is moving to D5.

  11. Robert M. on July 24th, 2021 1:07 pm

    How much does this company charge for a flight? Who obligates the patient to incur the cost? Air ambulances are notorius for high charges that insurance will not cover. “A 2017 report commissioned by Association of Air Medical Services, an industry trade group, found the average cost per transport is just over $11,000. Those same companies charge on average more than three times that amount: The median charge for an air ambulance ride in a helicopter was more than $36,000 in 2017, according to data in the federal report, published this spring by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

  12. Rod on July 24th, 2021 11:35 am

    I think some insurance plans cover helicopter service and it has been our experience that the helicopter companies will work with you on paying for the service. I know they are expensive, but if you need it, you are glad they are available.

  13. William 2 on July 24th, 2021 11:22 am

    When it comes to life or death, I could care less about the cost! This should have been done a long time ago, the closest ambulance is dispatched!, it only makes sense to dispatch the closest Helo.

  14. ensley boy on July 24th, 2021 10:10 am

    No matter which one is used, the fee will bankrupt most people.

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