by John Nance
San Juan EMS Chief Jim Cole’s statement flies in the face of the reality in the Sounder’s story “Airlift Northwest cuts ties with Island Air Ambulance” that ran last week.
Neither he nor Larry Wall nor anyone else associated with Island EMS is making decisions “… on the basis of what’s best for the patient…” when a patient is pushed into an inferior form of emergency transport involving two ambulances and a fixed wing aircraft versus transport directly to the helipad of a hospital.
Here’s a real fact: There is an obvious and provable bias in the decisions that have been and are being made on a daily basis by Chief Cole and others in San Juan EMS to shunt San Juan County residents off to Island Air’s structurally inferior air transportation services. At times, Airlift Northwest has been told to turn back because EMS officials have decreed that a transportee will use Island Air instead, and at other times people have been told that Airlift was not available when the record indicates they indeed were.
No one is impugning the safety dedication of Island Air Ambulance or the services of Island Air Inc. that they utilize, but those services are seriously inferior to Airlift in every significant way, in particular: One available non-pressurized, non-de-iced, Cessna 207, which means a single-engine, fixed wing aircraft flying over very cold waters, airport to airport rather than Airlift’s top-of-the-line transportation directly to the hospital attended by two highly trained nurses (versus one). There is no comparison.
Island Air Ambulance is a useful emergency backup, but never should be the primary means of emergency medical evacuation when Airlift’s superior capabilities are available. But the questions here revolve around the massive shunting of emergency airlifts to Island Air over the past year and the self-congratulatory empire building that is going on at county expense to build up this fixed wing service and fraudulently bill it as an equivalent.
Why, for instance, has there been a heavy weight bias toward Island Air and a partial sandbagging of Airlift? Is the motivation monetary? Have island residents been fully informed that Island Air Ambulance bills insurance companies the same amount (around $12,000, and in some cases more) than the charges Airlift bills?
Where, exactly, is that money going? Why have scarce San Juan County funds been squandered to create an inferior parallel service now being touted by one official, Larry Wall, as equal when under no circumstances is that correct? (Wall’s two recent advertisements passing as OpEds in the Journal clearly show a propensity for massive misrepresentation of the quality and nature of the services provided, but do nothing to explain why public funds are being poured into this parallel service).
Some very serious questions of propriety and legitimacy are now being raised and must be answered publicly and fully.
If this were a battle between two profit-making companies, no such questions would be appropriate. But this involves a vital public utility class service, and continuation of this bias at the cost of millions in county funds raises the possibility that Airlift’s services, if too little used, may have to be truncated with respect to the Bellingham helicopter base, which would immediately add life-losing time to an emergency transport.
I, for one, absolutely refuse to use anyone but Airlift for myself or my family, and am highly suspicious of what has been “built” here and why.
Author of “Why Hospitals Should Fly,” Nance is an aviation analyst for ABC world News, and a San Juan resident.