Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in a ceremonial “unveiling” of our new AirCare helicopter based at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport in Columbus. This is the third helicopter in our fleet and will primarily serve patients and hospitals in north Mississippi.
We're excited about this growth in our program and are grateful to the State Institutions of Higher Learning board for supporting this extension of our exemplary AirCare service to this part of Mississippi.
Yesterday's ceremony takes on special significance because this year marks the 20th anniversary of AirCare. In two decades, our helicopters and crews have transported more than 16,000 patients.
Think about what these flights represent. They give a baby born too soon a better chance at a healthy life. They give a grandfather with a failing heart the opportunity to see a beloved grandchild walk across a commencement stage. And they give a teenager in a car wreck the most rapid access possible to the state's only level 1 trauma center. All this and so much more.
There are other air ambulance providers in Mississippi and we work with them on a daily basis. But we're different.
- We're the only service with a statewide mission. Indeed, later this year we will deploy a fourth helicopter to better serve residents and providers in our southern counties.
- Unlike some services, our helicopters don't just offer a fast ride to the hospital. They are essentially mobile intensive care units, bringing life-saving equipment and expertise to patients, whether that's in a community hospital or by the side of a country road.
- AirCare can fly when others can't, including in poor weather conditions. We fly the most powerful and best equipped helicopters, and our pilots are rated to fly with the aid of instruments when visibility is marginal.
- We provide a superbly trained staff of flight nurses and paramedics, many with advanced practice certification in their fields. And we're the only service that can transport infants and neonates.
- We don't engage in predatory billing. We accept insurance and don't balance bill the patient for charges their plans don't cover.
While I'm on the subject of funding, I want to clear up a common misconception. Funding for the AirCare program comes entirely from UMMC's hospital patient-care activities, not from state appropriations.
Compared to other health-care activities we're involved in, operating a fleet of air ambulances that are on-call 24-7 is not without risk. Our corporate partner, PHI Air Medical, which provides pilots, maintenance personnel and helicopters to AirCare, has one of the industry's strongest safety records.
We're also fortunate to have strong leadership of the program, including from Dr. Damon Darsey, medical director; Donna Norris, clinical director; Jeremy Benson and Sam Marshall, managers; and Jonathan Wilson, UMMC chief administrative officer.
I congratulate them, and all those who have gotten us to this 20th anniversary milestone and new base of operations in northeast Mississippi. Most of all, though, I salute the staff who proudly wear the blue flight suits - the 30 members of the clinical team and 19 members of the PHI operations team. These men and women put themselves in harm's way to put our patients first. Their esprit de corps inspires us, and comforts every Mississippian who knows that they stand ready to spring into action at a moment's notice.
AirCare - saving lives one flight at a time, and one more very important part of our growing effort to build A Healthier Mississippi.