Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Air Ambulance Support

Air Ambulance Membership-Is it worth it?  Is it too expensive?  Or, is it just right?
I have no problem justifying to myself spending money for hunting tags and fishing equipment.  My wife thinks it crazy that I hesitate at the thought of purchasing an air ambulance service membership.  I mean- how many extra shells and lures could I get for that same expense?  I argue that the chance of needing such a service is few and far between. But truthfully, every now and then I hear a story that easily could be any of us.
Take Bob and his good fishing friend Jason.  They were fly fishing on a beautiful river in Eastern Oregon.   While sitting on the bank and tying on a new fly, Bob experienced excruciating pain that began to radiate throughout his chest. He was certain he was having a heart attack.
It turned out that an air ambulance was critical for Bob’s survival.  Accompanying Bob on his flight to Boise was a critical care flight nurse and a respiratory therapist.  Bob survived his ordeal, attributing the superb care he received in flight as a major factor to his outcome.
This brings us back to my wife’s point.  In Central Oregon, with air ambulance membership, an entire family is covered for only $58.00 a year. Bob, if he didn’t have a membership, would be paying anywhere from $15,000-$30,000 for a single trip. Do the math. That’s one heck of a lot of shells and lures. Not to diminish the added value of having me around for additional hunting seasons too.
How many of us bring our buddies, kids and loved ones with us during an outing? Why do we always pack a First Aid kit? We don’t plan on having to use it, but it sure is nice to have it if needed.  So, how does a responsible backcountry traveler prepare?
An air ambulance service is a very viable option. AirLink is the service in Bend, Oregon.
Earlier this summer, I visited with Stacy Durden of Saint Charles Health Care in Bend. It was a very illuminating conversation.  I learned that AirLink is a contracted component to the hospital’s critical care service program.  AirLink provides helicopter service on site at the hospital and has two fixed wing aircraft at the local air port. The stats are impressive. Routinely, three to four missions are flown daily with over 12,000 missions annually. Since beginning flight operations in 1985 AirLink has transported over 20,000 patients.  I asked Stacy what a hunter or hiker should do in an emergency. Her response was don’t delay making a phone call to 911.  Those initial minutes in an emergency are precious.  Be crystal clear what the situation is. Emergency 911 Dispatch will coordinate and determine what assets to send. Geographic coordinate information (e.g., Latitude and Longitude) from a Global Positioning System receiver and a geographic reference (e.g., the south shore of Suttle Lake) is very helpful. Having a fully charged cell phone is a big plus as you may receive several calls from the 911 dispatch center and other first responders. Though hunter fatality numbers are generally low, the experience and skills an air ambulance crew brings to an emergency is significant. Think how many times do you go out into the woods hiking, fishing or just camping; ever have an unplanned situation come up?  What about the travel time on the highways and over the passes-if a knucklehead crosses the line and rams into you? Do you want to chance that critical time to save you or your child’s life?
The response talent is absolutely the best. Crew assignments flex to patient requirements. Critical care, respiratory therapist, and even neonatal nurses are available. Pilots commonly have years of fight time and are exceptionally experienced; many are former military aviators.
I found it comforting to know that AirLink has reciprocal coverage with other services in the Northwest such as Portland’s Life Flight Network.  Membership runs $58 annually for the family, including children away at school. Extended family (such as a mother-in-law) permanently living with the member’s family are covered too. In an emergency, the patient’s insurance will cover part of the service costs; membership covers the balance.
For my family, the $58 family membership is worth the cost. It doesn’t rust, need maintenance or replacement batteries. It is a great deal for the investment - just remember to reload it every year.

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