New service is speeding transport of isle patients
AirMed International began flights on Tuesday night
Some neighbor island doctors and paramedics said there has been an improvement in emergency air transport of patients since an additional airplane ambulance carrier began service Tuesday.
"The service has dramatically improved," said Dr. John Funai, chief of cardiology at Wilcox Memorial Hospital.
Since starting service Tuesday night, AirMed International has been flying a Hawker 800 jet and adding to the transport work provided by Hawaii Air Ambulance.
Lani Yukimura, spokeswoman for Wilcox Health representing its hospital and clinic, said the transports have been "very quick" with AirMed arriving on Kauai about 20 minutes after receiving a call.
Dr. David Nelson, in charge of transferring patients from Maui Memorial Medical Center, said the addition of another air service with 24-hour care is a "big improvement."
"Right now, it's a great relief," Nelson said.
Paramedic Scotty Schaefer, a member of a Maui emergency advisory committee, said patients with non-life-threatening problems, such as appendicitis and a broken leg, have in the past waited for days.
"The same kind are now being flown over on the same day," he said. "We're delighted that there's improvement in the transport."
AirMed Hawaii spokesman Kevin Dunegan said within the next two months, the firm plans to bring over two King Air C90s to replace the Hawker.
Dunegan said within the first 24 hours of operation, AirMed conducted 11 medical transports.
Dr. Richard McDowell, chief of the emergency department of Kona Community Hospital, said from his perspective it was too early to tell whether there was any change, partially because his section has a small number of medical transport emergencies -- about 10 patients a month.
McDowell said he has worried about the potential for a lack of coordination among the two emergency air carriers, which have separate dispatch units.
Dr. Linda Rosen, a state deputy health director, said the state has no jurisdiction in coordinating the two private firms' dispatch systems.
"That's not to say that that's not a need," she said. "It's just we're not in a position to provide it."
Rosen said she knows Hawaii Air Ambulance has been referring calls it cannot handle to AirMed, and she hopes the two private firms work out a system.
She said the addition of AirMed as a second emergency carrier has "absolutely" made a difference. "There's no question it's better now."
Sandy Apter, AirMed Hawaii vice president and general manager, said interviews have begun to recruit a full-time staff of 10 pilots, five nurses and five paramedics.
Apter said the company's training standards are similar to those of commercial airlines like Aloha Airlines.
AirMed International, based in Birmingham, Ala., provides air ambulance service worldwide, including work with the Department of Defense.
The firm said it has conducted more than 9,000 medical transports and evacuations in 150 countries.
Hawaii Air Ambulance had been the sole emergency airplane carrier authorized by the state prior to an air crash on Maui that killed three of its employees on March 8.
The firm voluntarily grounded all four of its Cessna 414A airplanes, pending inspections by the Federal Aviation Administration.
One of the airplanes is back in service, and Hawaii Air Ambulance has chartered a second airplane to carry some noncritical patients.
Funai said the emergency certificate of need issued to AirMed to operate in Hawaii is good for two years.
Funai said he sees the additional emergency air services as a solution to a "chronic problem."
"We don't see it as a new emergency," he said.