Erlanger Health System will add a fourth medical helicopter to its Life Force fleet next month to serve more of North Georgia.
Erlanger President Jim Brexler told hospital trustees Thursday night that the $3.5 million Bell helicopter will begin transporting patients to Chattanooga's largest hospital on Oct. 14.
The aircraft will be located temporarily at Fannin Regional Hospital in Blue Ridge, Ga., but Erlanger is building a new hangar and service facility near McCaysville, Ga. -- 46 miles from Erlanger's main campus on Third Street.
Erlanger expects to spend $2.1 million a year to operate the additional helicopter, which program officials project will make an average of one medical transport a day to Erlanger hospital from 12 counties in Northeast Georgia, western North Carolina and parts of Southeast Tennessee.
"This gives people the ability to live in a rural area and not be disadvantaged about whether you live or die from an illness or injury," said Roger Forgey, senior vice president of adult acute care services at Erlanger.
The existing fleet of three Life Force helicopters makes about 2,000 medical transports a year. The new service will add nine employees to Life Force, bringing the total staff to 76, according to Life Force program director Steve Straughen.
Med-Trans Corp., the Dallas-based provider of air ambulance programs at 33 U.S. locations, will own Life Force 4 and receive the transport fees from patients. Erlanger will staff the helicopter with emergency response personnel in exchange for getting patients for the hospital.
Despite opposition from other medical air transport competitors, Georgia provided a $600,000 grant for the new Life Force service to encourage Erlanger to expand into the rural mountains of Northeast Georgia.
Erlanger Vice President Doug Fisher, who encouraged Georgia legislators this spring to fund the service, said Erlanger will be investing more than three times as much as the grant amount in the new Georgia service.