Ted Galbraith, Director of Clinical Services for LifeMed Alaska, loads up one of the two jets the air ambulance company will keep ready at the Juneau International Airport. The company will employ eight pilots, eight flight nurses and emergency medical technicians in Juneau. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ted Galbraith, Director of Clinical Services for LifeMed Alaska, loads up one of the two jets the air ambulance company will keep ready at the Juneau International Airport. The company will employ eight pilots, eight flight nurses and emergency medical technicians in Juneau. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Third air ambulance service comes to Juneau

  • By LIZ KELLAR
  • Monday, May 8, 2017 12:30pm
  • News

If you are seriously injured in Alaska — or you need extensive surgery — ground transport to medical services may not be an option. Even if it is, the dearth of specialized services in much of the state means that in all likelihood, you’re headed to Seattle.

The statistics, and the economics, can be sobering. In Juneau, Bartlett Regional Hospital medically evacuates more than 2 percent of the its patients per year — 337 patients from the Emergency Department and from inpatient units in 2016, up from 318 the year before and 273 in 2014.

Types of patients who end up being medevaced include stroke or heart attack patients, critical trauma patients, people who acutely need vascular or other specialty surgery that Bartlett cannot provide, neurosurgery, some orthopedic procedures, pediatric illness/surgery, or burns, said BRH Chief Clinical Officer Rose Lawhorne in an email.

If you don’t have health insurance, the bill for air transport alone will be crippling. If you do have insurance, many insurance companies don’t cover air transport, and even if they do, your share of the out-of-pocket expenses can still be substantial.

The average cost depends on flight service and destination, noted Lawhorne, adding that, for example, a Haines-to-Juneau flight would be less than a Juneau-to-Seattle flight.

“With that in mind, the cost is somewhere between $30,000 and $150,000-$170,000 per flight,” she wrote. “It’s not hard to recognize the benefits of not owing even a 20 percent copay of the $150,000 flight.”

Until this month, Juneau residents have had their choice of two providers in town that provide yearly memberships at $100-125 from Airlift Northwest and Guardian, respectively, which guarantee full coverage of the cost of emergency medical transportation.

Now — as of May 1 — there’s a third provider in town, LifeMed Alaska. The air medical service, which has moved into the hangar formerly occupied by Wings of Alaska, is a nonprofit formed in 2008 by the merger of two corporations owned by Providence Health and Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. LifeMed Alaska also has bases in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Bethel, Palmer, Soldotna and Dutch Harbor.

“LifeMed Alaska is an organization that is owned by Alaskans, managed by Alaskans, and serves Alaskans. We are positioned to understand the diverse needs of our patients in Southeast, because we understand the uniqueness of the communities here,” said David Svobodny, the new Juneau base manager for LifeMed Alaska, in a prepared statement.

‘It’s about transporting the patients’

Typically, Lawhorne said, the physicians and nursing supervisors decide which flight service to use, based on —among other factors — whether there are contracts in place, the preferred provider status for that patient’s insurance, and the available of the service. If no contract or membership is in place, availability of service or provider preference determines which service is chosen.

LifeMed Alaska is the preferred provider for Aetna and Premera. According to the company’s director of clinical services, Ted Galbraith, the new Juneau base was partially driven by the insurance providers’ desire to have a base in Southeast Alaska.

LifeMed Alaska will base two Lear jets, one as backup, in Juneau; each can accommodate two patients.

“We expect we will be very busy in the summer due to the influx of tourists,” Galbraith said, adding that the need for services varies widely by location.

The type of patients totally runs the gamut, he says, with lots of trauma care. Last year, 73 percent of the patients served by LifeMed Alaska were adult, 18 percent pediatric, 5 obstetric and 3 neonatal.

“We’re the state’s only neonatal specialty transport team,” Galbraith said, adding that those flights will have specially sized equipment, as well as medical staff on board with specialized training.

Because LifeMed Alaska is operated by a nonprofit, its membership is offered at $49 a year, Galbraith said.

“It’s a pretty great deal for Alaskans,” he said. “We have the lowest price point — and also no waiting period. If you need it, you can sign up right at that moment.”

Galbraith said the membership revenue doesn’t cover the cost to operate the flights.

“It’s about transporting the patients,” he said. “We have a mandate to transport all Alaskans. We don’t have to make a profit, we’re owned by a nonprofit. All they ask is that we don’t cost them money. We also have a charity care plan for those without a membership or a healthcare plan.”

The new Juneau office will host a community open house in June; for more information, visit LifeMed Alaska’s Facebook page.


• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or liz.kellar@juneauempire.com.


More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Dec. 2

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Hunter credits community members for Thanksgiving rescue

KENAI — On Thanksgiving, Alaska Wildlife Troopers released a dispatch about a… Continue reading

Most Read