LifeFlight finally in place

Published 12:49 am Sunday, February 8, 2009

A contract for a primary helicopter response company to cover Pearl River and a number of other counties was signed in October, 2008. After months of delay that company took to the skies Wednesday evening.

Apparently the hold up involved securing the proper licensing from the Mississippi Department of Health, said Baptist LifeFlight program director Kevin Stanhope.

Even though LifeFlight was unable to provide service to the area after the contract was signed the contract will still expire as of Sept. 30. Stanhope said he called the state a number of times to check on the status of the license, but each time he said he was told that he department had everything they needed and it was still under review.

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As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the license was approved, LifeFlight is the primary emergency helicopter service to Pearl River and nine other counties, making Rescue 7 the secondary service.

Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said as of Thursday morning LifeFlight had already performed an emergency transport in this county.

If needed helicopters at all four stations that LifeFlight houses helicopters, Semmes and Evergreen, Ala., Pensacola Fla. and Hattiesburg, will be available, Stanhope said.

Baptist LifeFlight has about 31 years of experience with emergency helicopter service. Stanhope said the company plans to be in the area for a long time and if for some reason their contract is not renewed they will still be in the area, they just won’t be the preferred provider at that point.

LifeFlight’s helicopter for this area is housed at the Bobby Chain Municipal Airport in Hattiesburg, making it only seven minutes away, Stanhope said.

If any of the other helicopters in the four stations are needed then they are also minutes away.

Manley expects the initiation of LifeFlight’s service to the Southeast Mississippi Air Ambulance District to only enhance the coverage the area has been getting, which includes the ten counties.

“I hope it works out and I hope it continues,” Manley said.

Early last year EmergyStat ceased service to 23 counties, including Pearl River and in September another helicopter service, Gulf Coast MedEvac, ceased coverage without warning. Since then AAA has taken over ground services and Baptist LifeFlight was contracted as the preferred helicopter service.

To ensure another situation such as those last year does not reoccur regulations have been put in place by the Mississippi Department of Health, said director of health protection Jim Craig.

Craig said those regulations now require any service provider to give 30 days notice prior to ceasing service. If notice is not given then the provider will be fined $1,000 per day for the 30 day period and an additional $1,000 per day for any other uncovered days.

Luckily last year there were a number of other providers willing to step up and help out when EmergyStat ceased service. If another such episode takes place Craig expects the same thing to take place.

“We have found the EMS community as a whole is very willing to help,” Craig said.