Funding at risk for CA air ambulance service

The Emergency Medical Air Transportation Act must be renewed to maintain funding

Fresno, Calif. -

Air ambulance providers in the state of California say their service could be at risk and the problem is money. The crews at SkyLife Air Ambulance respond to calls all over the Valley, flying patients quickly to the hospital for life saving treatment. They're concerned a cut in state funding could mean a cut to these services that people desperately need.  

On Fresno's SkyLife Air Ambulance, life or death situations are just a call away.

"Daily we're responding out to a rural, or remote area," said Lisa Epps of SkyLife Air Ambulance. "We'll see daily transportation of patients who are devastatingly injured, or of critical sick nature."

Right now, air ambulance services like this are funded in part by the Emergency Medical Air Transportation Act or "EMATA" which placed a $4 fee on traffic tickets generating $8 million statewide for air ambulance services and another $8 million in matching funds from the federal government.
"We're always ready. We are here 24/7. We have flight nurses, ems pilots, in flight paramedics that are ready to go at a moments notice," said Epps. 

But the state funding will be gone and services impacted if lawmakers don't renew "EMATA". It expires at the end of this year.. 

"It's critical to our industry in California," said Epps. 

Trauma doctors at CRMC say patients transported in an air ambulance like this, with a staff on board, they have a much better chance at survival.

"When someone is bleeding. Time is important," said Community Regional Medical Center Doctor Lawrence Sue. 

Doctor Sue is a top trauma doctor at CRMC, the only level one trauma center in a 150 mile radius.

"The distances involved are generally up to 2 to 3 hours by automobile and a helicopter can make those trips in less than a half an hour," said Dr. Sue.

He says funding for medical helicopters is crucial in giving doctors the opportunity to save lives that would otherwise be lost traveling in an ambulance.

"The helicopters are faster and at 30 miles out or more the studies have shown that it is a superior modality of transportation and it saves lives," said Dr. Sue.

California State Assemblymember Jim Wood is pushing legislation to renew air ambulance funding-- issuing this statement:

"We recognize that the fees being tacked on to traffic tickets have become excessive, but without a funding source, we risk making these services, that are often the difference between life and death, available to only the wealthy and privileged."

Experts believe any cutback on air medical services will impact rural areas the most and will tax already limited resources in those small communities.


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