A medical helicopter company that transports patients to and from hospitals around the state is shutting its Santa Fe office, causing concern that patients in the northern part of the state will have longer wait times for emergency medical evacuation.
A PHI Air Medical spokesman said Friday the company will continue to serve the Santa Fe and Taos area, but will dispatch from its Albuquerque base. The spokesman said the decision to close the Santa Fe office was based on economic factors, and the fact that there is another transport company based here.
"We don't feel like people will be losing anything with this," the spokesman said. "The decision to provide service from our existing bases we feel is not going to leave the community without service."
But emergency medical providers up north are worried the company's closure could result in longer wait times for critically ill or injured patients.
"There might be another air service in Santa Fe," said Taos County Emergency Medical Services director Joaquin Gonzales. "But my concern
is, what if they are off on another flight and we have a major accident her in Taos? We'll have to wait
55 minutes to an hour for them to come from Albuquerque or Farmington to transport these patients. For an inter-hospital transfer it will be OK. But with a shooting, stabbing or car wreck, you can't sit on the side of the highway waiting for the next available helicopter. I think personally, as a service director and paramedic, there is a need for an additional helicopter in Northern New Mexico."
Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center CEO Alex Valdez said Friday the hospital uses PHI about 30 or 40 times per month. He said about a third of those calls involve transporting patients from hospitals or accident scenes north of Santa Fe. He said he didn't know how much the hospital uses TriState CareFlight, the other provider with a Santa Fe base.
"This issue just hit so we haven't really had time to process its implications for us," Valdez said.
Valdez said the hospital is working with other emergency medical care systems around the state to make sure the most up-to-date equipment is available more places in north central New Mexico, which could cut down on the need for emergency medical transport.
Neither company would provide the exact number of calls it handles.
But TriState CareFlight director of operations Charlie Reid said he thinks his company can easily handle the demand for medical air transport in the northern part of the state on its own.
"It would not be any problem for us picking up PHI's slack, Reid said. "It would really just put us in a position of being comfortably busy."