Air ambulances save lives in rural Kentucky, but are costly; Junction City buys Air Evac memberships for everyone in town

Medical helicopters are especially important to rural Kentucky because they get people to the medical care they need quickly, but this service comes at a cost that many can’t afford, Miranda Combs reports for WKYT.

Air Evac Program Director Donald Hare told WKYT that “the average cost of a flight is around $32,000 and insurance pays, on average, $8,000 and $12,000 of that cost,” Combs writes.

“About 14 to 16 percent of our flights are people with no insurance whatsoever and don’t have the ability to pay for that flight,” Hare said, noting that they try to work with people to set up a payment plan in this situation.

Jim Douglas, the mayor of Junction City, told Combs that his city council has decided to buy memberships with Air Evac Lifeteam, which has a hub in the Danville Airport, for everyone in the city to cover them if they need to use the service. He said more than 60 people were flown out of Boyle County on a medical helicopter last year.

“It could be a lifesaving thing,” Douglas told Combs, and said it will “cost the city just under $12,000,” Combs writes. And while he said he fully expected some people to use the service for non-emergency reasons, he asked,  “But who’s to make the call? I wouldn’t want to.”

Michael Bentley, a paramedic, assured WKYT that most of their transfers are emergencies.

“We generally get called out to the sickest of the sick patients. We’re generally not going out to ‘Joe that stubbed his toe on the refrigerator at home.’ Our patients are major trauma type patients or cardiac events that have happened to these patients,” Bentley told WKYT.

Adam Tubbs, an EMT in Nicholas County, told Combs that medical flights were important because it takes “precious time by ground to get to an emergency call” in such a large rural county. He noted that, on average, they call for air ambulances several times a week. The Nicholas County Hospital closed more than one year ago.

The cost of these air transports has become such a problem that Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, filed a bill during the last legislative session calling for a study of air-ambulance charges. The bill passed out of the House, but did not make it out of committee in the Senate.

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