December 6, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 49

Air service expands options for medevacs

By Karen Garcia

Medevac provider Airlift Northwest has decided to station a small plane in Juneau. That’s good news for Haines residents with Apollo Medi Trans insurance.

The turbo-prop plane, expected to be operating by late April or early May, will provide medevacs at no out-of-pocket cost to Apollo policy holders.

Airlift Northwest previously used a bigger Learjet 31, which could land in Haines only during pristine weather, preventing the company from providing consistent service to smaller Southeast communities.

The decision to obtain the turbo-prop plane was finalized Monday, said Shelly Deering, Airlift Northwest’s regional manager for Alaska.

Though the company has fielded requests regarding a smaller plane for the past several years, the matter became more pressing when contract negotiations between Guardian Flight, the main medevac provider in Haines, and Apollo began to deteriorate.

If a contract between the two companies is not renewed by May 2013, Apollo will pay only 80 percent of Medicare rates for Guardian-provided flights, which generally run between $25,000 and $30,000.

“If our agreement ends and is not renewed in May, Airlift Northwest can be called and an Apollo member will have no out-of-pocket cost. It does give a big choice,” said Apollo medical director Eric Stirling.  

Stirling said they have not heard from Guardian regarding contract renewal and are moving forward under the assumption the contract will not be renewed, although they hope something can be worked out.

Airlift Northwest is a tax-exempt entity, similar to a nonprofit. Deering said reasons for obtaining the turbo-prop plane are to provide better service to smaller Southeast communities and to provide transportation for Apollo and Premera insurance policy holders.

“Our goal isn’t to make money. It’s sustainability, and also to improve our services,” such as upgrading equipment and providing ongoing nurse training, Deering said.

Airlift Northwest medevacs can provide critical care and are essentially a “mini-ICU (Intensive Care Unit) in the air,” Deering said. Two nurses, who each have at least three years of critical care experience, are present on every flight.

Airlift Northwest contracts with Oregon-based vendor Aero Air, LLC, which provides aircraft and pilots for the company.