Emergency service takes flight - East Valley Tribune: West Valley

Emergency service takes flight

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Posted: Friday, January 14, 2011 3:45 pm

To many people, the idea of a helicopter ride is exhilarating, but that flight can turn scary if it’s a medical necessity instead of a joy ride.

For the pilots, nurses and paramedics working for Native Air, their trips are a little bit of both.

Following the frightening possibility of needing a medical transport in case of an accident, people also have to face the expensive aftermath.

Medical flights can cost thousands of dollars.

While insurance plans vary, most only cover up to 90 percent of the cost, leaving patients to pick up the remainder of the bill.

Native Air, the local branch of parent company Omniflight, has an answer for that problem with a membership program offering flights for $49 a year.

John Cole, the regional director of business development for Native Air, said the program is growing and has been available in Arizona for a short time.

“Chances are pretty slim that you’ll need it, but for $50, it’s a small amount for a big peace of mind,” Cole said. Deeper discounts are also available to groups.

Omniflight will accept whatever payment a health insurance company will cover, but all other costs are covered by the membership fee for any medically necessary transport, potentially saving patients thousands of dollars.

The program is offered in eight different states, but works if a transport is needed in any of the 18 states, with 77 total bases, where Omniflight operates.

The crews fly out of Deer Valley Airport in north Phoenix, which serves Sun City and the rest of the Northwest Valley, or one of the other 15 bases in Arizona. Crews use both helicopters and a fixed-wing plane in cases where weight or weather might be a concern.

“It’s really rewarding,” said pilot Ed Russell.

Each team is made up of a pilot, nurse and paramedic, whether they fly in the helicopter or fixed-wing plane.

“There are a lot of things that make this the best job ever,” Cole said.

The crews work long shifts, up to 24 hours at a time, but the groups work well together as they face a variety of situations.

“If you can think about it, it will happen someday,” said paramedic Gabe Alvarez.

Native Air takes just about any medical transports, with a few exceptions, and the crews have seen it all, involving the most stable or the most critical patients, said nurse Robyn Turney.

“Anything and everything is our arena,” Turney said. “Believe it or not, for us it’s fun.”

The calls with kids are the most difficult, or situations that somehow relate to where you are in life, the crew said.

“Those will haunt you,” Turney said. “You remember the bad ones; you don’t remember the good ones.”

Cole agreed.

“We tend to like those crazy ones; we tend to thrive on adrenaline,” Cole said.

For details about OmniAdvantage, its coverage areas and frequently asked questions, visit www.omniadvantagemember.com or call 972-715-4637.

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