AMR reports on how its staff decides on air transport for patients

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

MOUND CITY – American Medical Response (AMR) Operations Manager Galen Anderson and Captain Virgil Swanson met with the Linn County Commissioners on Monday, Dec. 6.

Anderson said the month of November had been a busy month with seven helicopter transports. Three were significant cardiac, one suspected stroke, one significant respiratory, and two were significant trauma patients.

Commission Chair Rick James asked if the family members have a choice of whether the person goes by helicopter. James said that he had heard of several instances of where the family was billed tens of thousands of dollars for helicopter transport.

Anderson said that the family or patient always had a choice about being transported whether by helicopter or ambulance.

Anderson said that he would have to get more information but that he knew that the Air Ambulance companies that AMR worked with sold an insurance policy to Linn County residents that covered everyone in the household for around $100 a year. He said he also believed that those companies had a contract with Blue Cross in Linn County.

County Clerk David Lamb said that the county did offer optional coverage for their employees to cover helicopter transport.

There is no bill for the response, just the transport, said Anderson. Even if a helicopter is on its way and the patient chooses not to use it, there is no charge, and it is the same with the ambulance.

Anderson said that AMR preferred to work with the insurance companies rather than bill the individual. The focus is to not have the patient be responsible for a large portion of the bill. The company works really hard to work with patients and to not have aggressive billing practices.

“It’s important for individuals to know what they may be getting into,” said James.

The rationale for when AMR orders a helicopter is developed by a review every year by the leadership of the ground ambulance and air ambulance, Anderson said.

He added that AMR reviews the criteria in each category of medical situation to determine how each patient will be transported. Certain cardiac patients have to meet a list of criteria for AMR to activate a helicopter for them.

The same is true with trauma patients, Anderson said. If somebody has a 6-foot fall AMR wouldn’t activate a helicopter, but if they fall off of a third story a helicopter would be summoned.

So it is very specific criteria that AMR staff will activate for, and then when the ambulance crew gets there they make a decision right away to keep the helicopter coming or cancel it, he said.

“By the way we have it set up, we make lots and lots of helicopter cancellations,” Anderson said.

During the report, Swanson demonstrated the Lucas chest compression device that AMR had purchased for Linn County out of AMR’s budget. The patient is laid on the board and a strap is adjusted around the person. The machine does the compressions which frees up the hands of the responders to prepare medications, help with breathing, and other necessary procedures.

The device is battery powered and can run for 45 minutes. They do carry a back-up battery.

Specific numbers for Linn County for the month of November included one call for Blue Mound and one transport; three calls for Centerville and one transport; two calls with a location of Fontana and one transport; 28 calls for La Cygne and with 15 transports; seven calls for Linn Valley and six transports; 17 calls for Mound City with 8 transports; four calls for Parker with two transports; 31 calls for Pleasanton and 19 transports; and five calls for Prescott with 4 transports. The total for November was 98 requests and 57 transports.

By commissioner district the number of calls were 35 calls and 22 transports for District 1 with an average response time of ten minutes and 27 seconds. For District 2, there were 43 calls and 26 transports and an average response time of eight minutes five seconds. And for District 3, there were 20 calls and nine transports with an average response time of 15 minutes and 30 seconds. The average response time for the whole county was ten minutes and 27 seconds.

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