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Ky. switches air medical services over dispatch delays

Ambulance Inc. alleged Air Methods would call teams from their own company who were too far away, and inked a new agreement with PHI Air Medical

By R. Scott Belzer
The Sentinel Echo

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Ambulance Inc. of Laurel County has made PHI Air Medical their first call for air service. The county’s ambulance service notified the 9-1-1 board of their decision during a brief meeting Wednesday morning.

Prior to this new agreement, Ambulance Inc. primarily used Air Methods, also based in the London-Corbin Airport. According to Susan Carpenter, senior vice president of Ambulance Inc., the decision comes in the wake of a disagreement with Air Methods.

“We’ve always had a policy about calling the closest available air transport.”

Ambulance Inc. alleged Air Methods would often call teams within their own company who were too far away to be effective in an emergency, instead of calling the closest team, regardless of the company.

“You can’t do that. It delays patient care,” she said.

The new agreement with PHI has been in the works for about a month.

“We’ve put it into writing this past week” Carpenter said.  “It’s going to save dispatch a lot of time, time (that is) precious to people who need emergency care. Time is the most important thing in an emergency.”

Per the written agreement, PHI Air Medical in the London-Corbin Airport will be their go-to transport when a flight crew needs to be sent to an accident or emergency. If PHI has no vehicles available, PHI will then contact crews, even those outside their company, who are the closest to the scene of the accident.

Companies who are based at the London-Corbin Airport will be contacted first; those in Somerset and Monticello, the furthest away, will be called last.

The order of the call list is as follows:

PHI, London

Air Methods, London

Air Evac, Manchester

Air Evac, Williamsburg

Air Methods, Somerset

PHI, Monticello

9-1-1 Board Chairman Larry Vanhook confirmed the board was informed of the new protocol but did not feel there was any need for board action.

Laurel County Sheriff John Root, too, said he did not feel that the 9-1-1 board had any input in the contract between the ambulance service and medical helicopter service, as they are both private companies.

“We told them it was fine with us,” Root said. “There was no action.”

Root also lauded the new arrangement, saying it would alleviate dispatch services from “tying up the lines” to contact different medical flight providers.

“If dispatch called Air Methods and they didn’t have anyone available, then they would have to call PHI,” Root explained. “That is a lot of phone tie-ups. Now, if the ambulance service says they need to fly someone out, the call goes to PHI, then if they don’t have someone available, then the call goes to Air Methods and on to other providers. This way is more time efficient for Dispatch and the patient.”

In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Jordan Cox, regional business manager for Air Methods, said he was not aware of the new agreement between Ambulance Inc. and PHI.

“We have a good working relationship with Ambulance Inc. and PHI,” Cox said. “PHI and Air Methods operate the same type of aircraft and they’re our next door neighbors at the airport. If the county or Ambulance Inc. have a preference about who to call, that’s entirely up to them.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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