Air ambulance service leaves Cape airport for Farmington

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The loss of Cape Girardeau's only locally based air ambulance service won't have a major effect on patient care, spokespeople for the city's two major hospitals said.

Arch Air Medical Service, a St. Louis-based company, last week moved its helicopter and crew stationed at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport to Farmington, Mo. The company could not justify remaining at the airport because monthly flights had dwindled in recent years to about 25 percent of the number the company once handled, said Bob Abrams, community relations senior manager.

The move will mean a loss of about $1,700 a month for the airport, the amount Arch Air spent to lease a city-owned hangar as its local base, airport manager Bruce Loy said. Arch Air had told the airport several months ago that it would be leaving the area, Loy said.

"It certainly is going to affect us for a while," he said. "We are looking for someone else to utilize that hangar. We may make a determination we can make up the difference by hangaring airplanes."

At Saint Francis Medical Center, about 400 patients each month require ambulance transportation, said Emily Sikes, a spokeswoman for the hospital. Of those, about 40 require helicopter transport and Arch Air provided about 10 percent of the air ambulance services, Sikes said.

Most patients transported by helicopter are being flown to the hospital, Sikes said. "We don't transport a lot of patients out of Saint Francis," she said. "For them to not be based in Cape Girardeau will not affect us."

And at Southeast Missouri Hospital, the story is about the same, said Mark Bliss, a spokesman for the hospital. While Bliss did not provide detailed numbers, he said there will remain sufficient air ambulance services to handle the region's needs.

"They moved their base of operations, not their service area," Bliss said. "It is not like they are moving out of the whole area."

Arch Air and Air Evac Lifeteam, based in Sikeston, Mo., are the two main suppliers of air ambulance services in Southeast Missouri. Air Evac Lifeteam moved from Cape Girardeau to Sikeston in 2004.

Arch Air will now have helicopters stationed in Farmington, Mo., and Sparta, Ill. Air Evac Lifeteam is in Sikeston and Perryville, Mo., Abrams said.

The growing medical offerings of Cape Girardeau's two hospitals changed the market, Abrams said. Saint Francis and Southeast are both sending fewer patients to metropolitan areas for advanced treatment, cutting into the need for a Cape Girardeau-based service, he said.

"The rule of thumb is that 80 percent of what we do is hospital-to-hospital transport and about 20 percent are scene-to-hospital," Abrams said.

Abrams noted that Arch Air stayed in Cape Girardeau two years longer than Air Evac. "We stayed there a long time to make it work," he said. "We even brought in a different air frame and we were still losing flights."

The company did not want to lay off pilots or support crews, Abrams said. Farmington, Mo., also has two hospitals, but a higher frequency of patients being transported for advanced care.

"It is a much better fit for our survival," he said.

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