New pilots, mechanics on board with CareFlight contract change

In this April 2010 file photo, a pair of Grand Junction motorcycle officers wait as a CareFlight air ambulance lands beside Tiger Way during a drunken-driving crash scenario at Grand Junction High School.

An Englewood-based company has won a contract from St. Mary’s Hospital to provide pilots and mechanics for the CareFlight program.

Air Methods Corp. was awarded a contract to operate a Eurocopter AS350 helicopter, which is based at St. Mary’s main hospital campus, as well as a Beechcraft King Air airplane based at Grand Junction Regional Airport.

Besides pilots and mechanics, Air Methods will provide communications services based out of Omaha, Neb. The changeover took effect Nov. 1, according to a news release issued by Air Methods.

Air Methods provided similar services when St. Mary’s launched its air medical program in 1980.

Dan Prinster, St. Mary’s vice president of business development, said the contract was eventually handed over to Petroleum Helicopters, which dispatched communications services out of Phoenix.

“We are honored and pleased to have earned St. Mary’s respect and confidence in once again being selected as their partner in serving the communities of Grand Junction, western Colorado and eastern Utah,” said Air Methods Chief Executive Officer Aaron Todd.

Prinster said the hospital currently leases its Eurocopter AS350, a “smaller, lighter” alternative to its predecessor helicopter, which was sold by the hospital earlier this year.

Prinster said a Bell 412 helicopter, which had capacity to fly multiple patients, was deemed “inefficient” and sold in January. The Eurocopter AS350 can fly one patient per flight.

More than 90 percent of CareFlight’s helicopter runs involve a single patient, Prinster said.

“It (AS350) is much more efficient for our operations,” he said.

“We’re in the process of working with Air Methods to purchase a helicopter,” Prinster added. “We’ll be back in a situation where we own the helicopter and have all the clinical staff, while they (Air Methods) provide pilots and mechanics.”

St. Mary’s also has designs on expanding emergency ground transportation.

Prinster said a critical-care ambulance has been ordered by the hospital, although it’s unclear when it will arrive and be ready for service.

The ambulance won’t be handling emergency calls in Mesa County, and Prinster said St. Mary’s isn’t looking to compete with the Grand Junction Fire Department.

“There are times when the helicopter can’t fly, or you’ll have a patient who doesn’t need the urgency of a flight,” Prinster said.


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