Life Flight operations explained to Colville chamber

RaeLynn Ricarte

Life Flight Community Outreach Coordinator Mary Gilmore recently briefed Colville Chamber of Commerce members about how the operation works.
Life Flight is only to be used for critical care for very serious or life-threatening medical conditions, such as heart attacks and strokes, she said. It can reach Colville from Spokane in about 40 minutes from a call coming in.
She said Spokane was a base that offered helicopter, airplane and ambulance services, which are also available from the Tri-Cities.
Helicopters and planes are housed in Dallesport and Moses Lake, as well as Butte, Mont.; Boise, Idaho; and Aurora and LaGrande, Ore.
Gilmore said “reciprocal partnerships” allowed additional flights as necessary from Air Idaho Rescue, Airlift Northwest, Air St. Lukes, Care Flight and Enloe Flight Care. The combined coverage area of these partners extends from Chico, Calif., to Sheridan, Wyo., with stops in Nevada.
“Rural areas are heavily dependent on air medical due to a lack of trauma centers,” Gilmore said.
Life Flight operates without government subsidies, but keeps its overhead at about half of what is charged in other areas of the country, she said. Using a fixed-wing craft is less expensive than a helicopter, but the average bill for a LifeFlight transport is about $40,000.
If an insurance company covered 80 percent of that cost, Gilmore said a family could still be left with thousands to pay.
By signing up for membership through the chamber, Gilmore said a person with a medical emergency could fly as often as necessary and there would be no bill for services not covered by insurance.
Gilmore said many of Life Flight's calls involve babies who need critical care so a membership might be a good idea for an expectant couple.
“Twenty-five percent of our transports are pediatric,” she said.
Gilmore said the Life Flight network had transported more than 120,000 patients over nearly four decades of operation and was committed to establishing bases in communities where they were most needed.
When people have a medical crisis, Gilmore said their first call needs to be 9-1-1 and not Life Flight, because that wastes valuable treatment time when a physician has to determine whether air transport is needed.