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Flight for Life Keeps On Choppin in Colorado

Oct. 10--For 35 years, Colorado s seriously ill and injured have been transported to the care they need by the nation s first civilian, hospital-based emergency medical helicopter service, regardless of their financial condition.

We never ask about a patient s ability to pay or check insurance status in an emergency, said Kathleen Mayer, director of Flight for Life Colorado. If we did, most of my crew members wouldn t work here anymore.

Founded in 1972 at St. Anthony Hospital in Denver, the service began with one helicopter. Today, it is owned and operated by Centura Health, the management firm owned by the Catholic and Adventist hospitals, and has bases at St. Anthony, Penrose in Colorado Springs and St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center.

Its fleet of four American Eurocopter helicopters and a pair of twin-engine Hawker Beechcraft KingAir planes are located around the state.

In an average year, Mayer said, the airplanes log 300,000 miles and the helicopters 2,800 hours.

Most transports are done by helicopter, but the planes are called in during bad weather or for trips longer than 150 miles.

The aircraft both transfer patients from member hospitals or from rural health care facilities to city hospitals where specialized services are available.

The helicopter fleet often is called to accident scenes where speed is essential in getting someone to an emergency room.

Flight for Life s work force includes 130 people including nurses, who are on every flight, pilots, technicians, respiratory therapists, paramedics and others.

Air transport is not cheap, Mayer said, and each year the service runs a $4 million deficit in a $13 million budget, the shortfall covered by the member hospitals.

Medicaid pays only 12 to 13 cents on the dollar, she said, and even many private insurance plans have caps that require patients to pick up a share of the cost.

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