Ala. city looks to add air ambulance service

After a previous ambulance service left the area, members of the Rainbow City Council are hoping to find another one to serve citizens


Donna Thornton
The Gadsden Times, Ala.

RAINBOW CITY, Ala. — Rainbow City Council member Rick Hill told colleagues during a recent council meeting that negotiations are underway to restore an air ambulance service to the Etowah County area, to replace Life Saver 2.

Hill said Survival Flight has expressed interest in locating in Rainbow City.

That's good news.

The worry over Life Saver air ambulance service leaving Rainbow City is a real one, according to Gadsden Fire Chief Stephen Carroll.

The nearest helicopter transport now is Air Methods Life Saver 4 in Sylacauga, he said, which is about 66 miles from the downtown Gadsden area.

The common estimate for helicopter travel time is two miles per minute, Carroll said, plus you have to factor in a few minutes — as many as 10 — for a crew to get ready and get a helicopter in the air, to respond to a traumatic injury.

"That cuts into your golden hour," he said, referring to the most critical time for treating serious trauma injuries.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has guidelines for when emergency medical personnel are supposed to call for a helicopter to take a patient to a Level 1 trauma center, and Birmingham is the closest one.

Carroll said he hopes to get some leeway from the APHD regarding those guidelines, that would allow EMS personnel to take a patient by ground to a local hospital first. That would allow quicker medical treatment, he said, and air transport still could respond, picking up a patient at the local hospital.

Local emergency responders said they had no notice that Air Methods was pulling out of Rainbow City until it was happening.

Hill told the council that in his talks with Survival Flight, he asked if the company could provide the same agreement Air Methods had offered to local municipalities: a kind of insurance that allow the city to pay a population-based fee that would cover all residents. If a resident needs air ambulance service, the company would accept whatever the resident's insurance coverage paid for the flight.

Without such coverage, some local residents in recent years have been hit with huge co-pays for air ambulance service. One family reported a bill for some $55,000 for a flight from Southside to Birmingham.

Hill said Survival Flight personnel he'd spoken with indicated the company could offer similar insurance coverage.

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©2019 The Gadsden Times, Ala.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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