Air ambulance company makes cost-saving proposal to Piedmont City Council
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Dec 18, 2013 | 3445 views |  0 comments | 92 92 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT — A representative from an air ambulance service has asked the Piedmont City Council to consider contributing to the cost of residents’ emergency transportation.

Under the terms of a proposed contract with Air Evac, one of two helicopter ambulance companies that serve Piedmont, the city would pay $29,148 each year to significantly reduce the cost of the service for people who live in the city’s limits. In a meeting Tuesday, council members did not vote on the proposal but said they would evaluate it.

“If we can afford it I think it would be a great service to provide for our community,” Mayor Bill Baker said. “They don’t have the money sometimes to handle an emergency situation.”

Air Evac representative Missy Welborn told the council members that for insured persons, the contract would completely eliminate the cost of air ambulance transportation, and it would reduce the cost of the service to less than $1,000 for people enrolled in Medicare.

Air ambulance companies typically charge between $20,000 and $25,000 for an emergency trip to a hospital, Welborn said. Health insurance companies pay a percentage of the cost, but the cost to a customer can still be thousands of dollars, she said.

Welborn said such plans are new, but cities and counties are entering into contracts like the one proposed for Piedmont. She added that no other Alabama cities are participating in a similar program with the company, but some in other Southern states are.

“Texas is covered in these plans,” Welborn said.

If the council approves the contract it will apply to those people living inside Piedmont’s city limits, according to Welborn. It will cover the cost of their rides to any local regional hospital, and if necessary, to a larger hospital that has the capacity to provide advanced trauma care.

Currently, two companies — Air Evac of Carrollton, Ga., and Life Saver of Gadsden — provide helicopter transportation for people from Piedmont to area hospitals. Last year, 19 people were taken out of the city on emergency helicopters.

Piedmont Rescue Squad Chief Phillip Winkles could not say how many of those rides were given by Air Evac and how many were given by Life Saver, but both companies would continue responding to emergencies in Piedmont, according to city officials.

Air Evac, which has one helicopter stationed in Carrollton, would not be bound by the contract to respond to every Piedmont emergency, Welborn said. The contract would not bar Life Saver from responding to emergencies in Piedmont, it was said in the meeting.

The companies would be called to scenes depending upon availability.

“We would not be putting the other company out of service,” Welborn said, referring to Life Saver.

The flights significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to rush people to the hospital.

It takes a ground ambulance an hour and a half to get to Birmingham hospitals, but an air ambulance can make the trip in 20 to 30 minutes.

In other business, near the close of the meeting, Piedmont resident Kenneth McGatha told the council that raw sewage backs up into his yard from the city’s pipes when it rains. McGatha said a public health official was called to his home to measure the gasses emitted from the sewage and found they were five times higher than normal.

In a letter to the city that McGatha made available at the meeting, he stated the problem has persisted for several years. In the letter McGatha wrote that he has discussed the matter with several city representatives over the years and that nothing has been done to correct it.

City officials responded saying they wanted to help and noted that the infrastructure surrounding Alabama Street near McGatha’s home is in need of repair.

The City Council also:

— Approved employees’ holiday work schedules for 2014.

— Gave a utility superintendent permission to begin soliciting bids to replace one mile of gas lines and approved spending bond money to cover the cost of the project.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.
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