- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The current medical flight service at McAlester Regional Health Center is lifting off — but a new one’s hovering to take its place and a competing one has already landed.

Representatives from two of the companies addressed the Pittsburg County commissioners during their regular Monday meeting at the county courthouse.

Strategic Operations Director Brian Burrell of Med-Trans Air Medical Transport told the commissioners a different flight service will soon be offering medical transports from McAlester Regional Health Center. The current medical flight provider for MRHC is EagleMed, which has been involved in two fatal crashes involving helicopters dispatched from the McAlester hospital.

On June 11, 2013, an EagleMed flight dispatched from MRHC crashed in Talihina, resulting in the death of patient Michael Wilson. Another fatal crash of an EagleMed helicopter dispatched from the McAlester hospital occurred on March 12, 2015, near Eufaula, causing the death of pilot Matt Mathews.

Burrell said the plan is for Med-Trans to take over medical flights for the McAlester Regional Health Center on Aug. 5. He said the new flight service will offer better equipment and highly-trained personnel.

The new medical flight service will be called McAlester Regional Air Care, he said. Burrell said the plan is for the new company to take over medical flights for the McAlester Regional Health Center on Aug. 5.

Burrell said those already covered by an EagleMeds membership will automatically be covered for the McAlester Regional Air Care flights offered through Med-Trans.

Jennifer Green, membership sales manager, also told the commissioners EagleMed’s memberships will be honored through the new medical flight service based at the hospital. Memberships are similar to insurance, in that members get greatly reduced rates for flight services, which could amount to a difference of thousands of dollars.

Following the meeting, the News-Capital inquired that if EagleMed and Med-Trans are owned by the same parent company, if anything would be changing other than the name?

Burrell said the Federal Aviation Administration certification would be changed.

“There’s an umbrella company called Air Medical Group Holdings,” he said. “It owns Med-Trans.”

Asked if the McAlester Regional Health Center had an interest in the medical flight service that will be known as McAlester Regional Air Care, Burrell said “We have a five-year agreement with the hospital.”

But does the hospital have a financial interest, such as part ownership? Burrell said it did not.

He said McAlester Regional Air Care will be utilizing Bell 407 GX helicopter. EagleMed uses Eurocopters.

Why is the Bell supposed to be better?

“It’s more powerful,” Burrell said. “It flies faster for transporting patients. It’s the fastest air medical transport (helicopter) in the state.”

He said it uses a Rolls Royce engine and will utilize four rotary blades, as opposed to three.

“It makes it more stable, able to lift more,” he said.

It will also include more equipment, such as a terrain avoidance system, autopilot, and “redundant” screens.

Do that mean there will be more than one screen? Burrell said there will be two.

Burrell addressed the commissioners Monday under the heading of New Business. He spoke minutes before Josh Howell, of Tulsa Life Flight / Air Methods, addressed the council about its new presence in McAlester. Susan Cook and Travis Cates also attended the meeting on behalf of Air methods / Tulsa Life Flight.

Howell said Tulsa Life Flight / Air Methods has set up a presence at McAlester Regional Airport.

“We’ve always gone to where the need is,” Howell said. Tulsa Life Flight has established a temporary day base at McAlester Regional Airport that’s ordinarily operational from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and hopes to expand soon, he said.

“Ultimately, we made the decision we like it here. We have plans to build and set up a permanent location,” Howell said. “We saw a need for our services.”

Howell also alluded to the possibility of Tulsa Life Flight setting up a reciprocal membership agreement with Med-Trans, which will be operating the McAlester Regional Air Care service. That would mean a membership in one service would be recognized as a membership in the other. However, Green said that will not be offered by the flight service stationed at the hospital and added it would be illegal to do so,

After the meeting, Cook, of Air Methods / Tulsa Life Flight, disagreed with Green’s contention it would be illegal for the flight service based at the hospital to form a reciprocal agreement with Tulsa Life Flight.

“It’s really not,” Cook said. “It may not be something they want to do,” she said, but added there are currently reciprocal agreements in place in other parts of the country.

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(c)2015 the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.)

Visit the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.) at mcalesternews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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