Hospital outsources dispatch services for CareFlight

St. Mary’s CareFlight lands at the hospital.

When CareFlight flew at St. Mary’s Hospital, pilots spanning nearly four decades relied on radio contact with people on the ground in Grand Junction.

That changes today for the better, hospital officials said.

“Like any homegrown service, when you hit the next level of service you have to do something differently,” said Dan Prinster, St. Mary’s vice president of planning and business development.

Specialists today were expected to go live with technology handing over communications and dispatching for St. Mary’s CareFlight program to a private company, PHI Inc. Staff manning a helicopter and an airplane with CareFlight will be in radio contact with men and women working out of a PHI-managed communications facility based in Phoenix.

“This new partnership should be transparent to you,” Kathy Shoemaker, chief flight nurse for the CareFlight program, wrote in a letter sent to agencies that regularly call upon CareFlight.

Communications concerns ranked high in feedback from agencies and businesses using CareFlight, hospital officials said.

Dispatching for the service had been handled among a staff of 12 at the hospital’s communications center, Prinster said.

While handling some 1,200 phone calls annually for CareFlight, the hospital’s communications center handles an average of 1,240 calls daily, according to hospital figures.

“You might have somebody calling to ask when our radiology service closes, or a doctor trying to reach another doctor, and then, a call comes in asking to dispatch CareFlight,” Prinster said. “CareFlight is a small piece of what they do, but they’re barraged by a lot of other calls.”

Those in contact will CareFlight should expect more accurate information about arrival times as a result of the switch to PHI, among other benefits, Shoemaker said.

“This is a small piece but very important to the customer,” she said. “There are many pieces that will be improved by this change.”

Of the 12 people employed in the communications center, one left prior to the changeover and another position may be affected, Prinster said.

“We’re not decreasing staffing,” he said.

CareFlight’s helicopter flies to scenes and facilities over a roughly 100-mile radius around Grand Junction, while its airplane commonly transports patients between facilities in Salt Lake City and Denver.


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