Air Methods has announced they will no longer maintain four of their bases in Oklahoma, including Mediflight at Grady Memorial Hospital in Chickasha.
The other bases include Tulsa Life Flight 1 in Keefeton, Tulsa Life Flight 3 in Riverside and MediFlight of Oklahoma 2 in Seminole.
The air medical services provider, Air Methods, said in a statement that the current reimbursement models are not sustainable and factored in their decision to close the four bases in Oklahoma.
"Air Methods is dedicated to the delivery of emergency, lifesaving care to anyone who needs it, 24/7/365," the statement said. "Air Methods does not self-dispatch—we only go when we are called, and we transport every patient who needs our services, regardless of their ability to pay. In many cases, we are the only link between hospitals for patients who need more intensive care, which is a responsibility we take very seriously as we make these decisions."
Warren Kean Spellman, Grady Memorial Hospital CEO, said the five employees at the base in Chickasha were informed of Air Methods' decision on Easter Sunday.
Spellman, who has experienced the turbulence of rural hospital economics firsthand, said that at least a week's notice would have been decent. The hospital CEO said he was "disappointed" by the sudden discontinued service as well as the uncertainty for the Chickasha base's employees.
An Air Methods representative said the employees' positions have not been terminated and the company will work with all employees on opportunities for other positions within Air Methods or their next career steps.
Word travels quickly in small communities and within the healthcare field. Another air ambulance service, Survival Flight, will be providing their services in the Grady County area. Survival Flight also operates at a Lawton hospital and for Integris in Oklahoma City.
According to Air Methods, they will continue to cover the service are with other Air Methods air medical aircraft including AirKids 1 in Oklahoma City, which will continue to serve the Grady County area for neonatal trips.
According to a statement, each base costs nearly $3 million per year to maintain with 85% being fixed costs.
"However, reimbursement for services has not kept up with costs. Medicare, which covers air medical services in emergency cases only, established the current air medical service payment rates in 2002 based on an estimated 1998 cost pool."
The statement further said in Oklahoma nearly 75% of transports are Medicaid, Medicare and self-pay/uninsured which reimburses less than 30% of costs.
"Again, we don’t self-dispatch nor have any idea of insurance status until after we deliver our patient and finish our mission. Medicaid in Oklahoma pays just over $4,500 per patient transport, with Medicare covering around $6,000, and self-pay/uninsured paying just under $500."
According to Air Methods, low government reimbursement will continue to deter businesses from providing air medical services.
"Because of the high number of uninsured patients in Oklahoma and the low payments by government payers, each Oklahoma air ambulance patient with private health insurance has to cover the costs for the remaining balance left by these 70% of transports. This business environment is not sustainable and puts emergency transport access at risk, which is critical in a state like Oklahoma which has seen at least 5 rural hospitals close in the last 6 years."