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Clinic s Chopper May Ease ER Woes

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Cleveland Clinic in Weston thinks it has the answer to Palm Beach County's shortage of emergency room specialists.

It's red and yellow, has a giant rotating blade on top and can fly 180 miles per hour.

The clinic is offering its LifeFlight medical helicopter to whisk patients from Palm Beach County ERs to its Weston hospital, where it has hard-to-find specialists standing by.

Because the Cleveland Clinic pays all of its doctors a salary -- and provides medical malpractice insurance coverage -- the hospital doesn't have problems attracting specialists to be on call in its emergency room, officials there said.

By contrast, Palm Beach County's shortage of ER specialists dates to at least 2004. That year, a Lake Worth woman died after being unable to find a neurosurgeon willing to treat her stroke. In 2006, a car accident victim's dangling eye was not treated for a week because an eye specialist could not be found. The same year, a man died when no local gastroenterologist could be found to treat him.

"When time is of the essence, the last thing you want to be doing is calling 15 hospitals and hearing from all of them, 'I can't help you,'" said Dr. Paul Adams, chairman of the emergency department at the Cleveland Clinic.

Until now, because of the long drive, few of the patients who could not get treated in Palm Beach County hospitals went to Weston. They were more likely to be transferred to hospitals in northern Broward County. But with the helicopter, a 45-minute ambulance trip turns into 15 or 20 minutes.

The clinic has received 10 emergency patients from Palm Beach County since it started marketing the service about a month ago. Mitch Feldman, a top Florida executive for Tenet Healthcare Corp., which owns five hospitals in Palm Beach County, doubts the clinic's helicopter will have a big impact.

"It's maybe an isolated or occasional solution," Feldman said.

~phil_galewitz@pbpost.com

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