Steamboat Springs A Utah company plans to bring air ambulance service back to Steamboat Springs two years after local service was discontinued in the wake of a crash that killed three people.
Joseph Hunt, president of Eagle Air Med in Blanding, Utah, said Friday his company intends to base a King Air C90B twin-engine turboprop air ambulance at Steamboat Springs Airport by April 16.
Eagle Air Med officials began talking with Yampa Valley Medical Center and Steamboat Springs city officials about six months ago about coming to Steamboat after basing a similar plane in Alamosa. The company also operates air ambulances in two small northeastern Arizona cities - Chinle and Kayenta.
"We recently based a plane in Alamosa, and Steamboat Springs seemed like a logical place to put a second aircraft," Hunt said. "We think Steamboat is in need of an air ambulance because it's a pretty rural area."
Karl Gills, the hospital's chief executive officer, said he is "pleased" to have an air ambulance return to the Yampa Valley because of the benefits it provides the community.
"It will return the local availability of emergency patient transfer to tertiary care centers when the patient condition requires transfer," he said. "It puts us at a higher level of service than most rural hospitals in the state and nation."
Air ambulance service halted after a Yampa Valley Air Ambulance crashed Jan. 11, 2005, near Rawlins, Wyo., in wintry weather. Three of the Steamboat Springs-based crew, including a pilot and two medical personnel, died during the accident. A fourth crew member sustained serious injuries, but survived the crash.
Despite the lack of a local air ambulance, medical patients continue to be flown from Yampa Valley Medical Center to other facilities around the state by air ambulances out of Denver.
Christine McKelvie, spokeswoman for the hospital, said 143 patients were transferred via air ambulance from Steamboat in 2005 and 132 patients were transferred in 2006. On average, 11.5 patients are transferred a month using air ambulance services.
Paula Golden, director of emergency and outpatient services at Yampa Valley Medical Center, said having access to a local air ambulance lessens the time patients have to wait for transfer.
"Time is of the essence when you're running against the clock," she said. "The sooner you can get a patient where he or she needs to go is key in improving or enhancing outcomes."
Helicopter ambulances from Denver can take up to two or three hours to reach Steamboat because they travel slower and a greater distance to reach patients, Hunt said.
"Our goal is to decrease the amount of time a patient waits for air medical service," he said. "With crews locally based, we're able to respond in about 15 or 20 minutes."
Eagle Air Med has been interviewing some local pilots and medical personnel to staff the air ambulance, Hunt said.
Air ambulances are most often used to transport patients suffering from severe trauma, cardiac or neurological problems or other medical issues the hospital is not equipped to handle, Golden said.
City officials said they have not received an official proposal from the company to base at the Steamboat Springs Airport.
Airport Manager Mel Baker said the company would have to go through a licensing process before it would be able to begin operating.
"We would have to wait and see what kind of agreement (Eagle Air Med) has made with the hospital before we'd move on anything," he said. "They've been in town a few times looking at our field, and there doesn't appear to be any problem with them flying out of here."
Eagle Air Med officials are in the process of preparing necessary paperwork to move forward, although Hunt did not know when anything would be finalized.