GREENVILLE - The wait for medical personnel to arrive at an accident scene may have been considerably reduced now that Delta Regional Medical Center has merged with Air Evac Lifeteam.
As a result, the Delta now has emergency air transportation.“This is something that is needed,” said Ray Humphreys, CEO of DRMC. Beginning in July, an Air Evac helicopter will be based at the DRMC Pavilion. The helicopter and its crew will be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Humphreys said the hospital sees about 50,000 trauma patients in a year, representing about 10 percent of those seen in the state.
The closest Air Evac helicopter is based in Batesville. The new Greenville facility will reduce reaction time to and from an accident scene.“This is so valuable to Washington County in terms of the lives that it will save,” said Washington County Board of Supervisors Mike Gordon.
Emergency air transportation is not cheap.
According to Bubba Bell, a former Greenville firefighter who will be the program director of the DRMC operation, and DRMC Board of Trustees member Bill Schultz, an average flight is around $15,000.
While no one who needs the helicopter service will be denied, there will be a membership program. For $50 a year, an individual will not have to pay for an Air Evac flight if needed. Membership costs $55 per couple and $60 for a household of three or more. “It's a very smooth flight,” said Schultz, who flew in for Monday's lunchtime press conference. “I wasn't worried at all.”
The concept here is great and could prove to be a life-saving service. However, my concern is not the wait time for transport to DRMC, but the wait time once you arrive at the ER... and the quality of care. Inadequate staffing (both nurses and physicians) remains a major problem at DRMC.
At a cost of $15,000 per flight, it will take 300 "members" to pay for one uninsured, non-member's flight. The majority of patients treated at DRMC are medicaid or "self-pay" (which equates to "no pay"), so this will rapidly become a very expensive venture for our county hospital. Since no one will be refused this service, there is no incentive for the the uninsured or under-insured to pay the very reasonable price of membership.
I am afraid that given our demographics, the membership fee would need to be at least $1,000 per year to offset the massive costs of indigent care that will be provided... and we all know who eventually pays for "indigent care."
Don't get me wrong. In a medical emergency, we are all thankful for every service that can be provided. The issue is cost... and who will eventually pay the price. Is this something that Washington County can afford and is it a prudent expenditure in this time of national economic crisis. Medicaid is already operating in the red and hospitals are facing additional taxes to support these programs for the indigent.
As much as we dislike thinking of hospitals as "businesses", they are, and the leaders have to be responsible with the public funds which support them. Once again, my advice to DRMC is to focus on their quality of basic acute patient care and quit having delusions of becoming a "TV Emergency Room."
If I were ever a member of the DRMC "flight club" for $50 a year, I would tip the pilot $1,000 to just take me to Memphis!