Health

UIHC's new AirCare plane can fly patients 700 miles

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics air ambulance service operated by Air Methods, a Denver-based company

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics AirCare added a single-engine, fixed-wing plane to its air ambulance service. The plane, equivalent to a 12-seater, can fly patients from a 700-mile radius and has enough room for a patient’s family member. (Submitted photo)
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics AirCare added a single-engine, fixed-wing plane to its air ambulance service. The plane, equivalent to a 12-seater, can fly patients from a 700-mile radius and has enough room for a patient’s family member. (Submitted photo)

IOWA CITY — The private contractor that operates the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ AirCare air ambulance service has added a plane, allowing the hospital to serve patients from a larger portion of the Midwest.

The single-engine Pilatus PC-12/45 owned by Air Methods can be used to fly patients from up to 700 miles away, which means the plane could fly as far as North Platte, Neb.; Toronto, Ontario; or Memphis, Tenn. This is compared to the 125-mile flight radius of AirCare’s helicopter, the hospital reported.

“The plane expands our reach and creates greater access to our hospital for more remote areas of Iowa and the region,” Dr. Andrew Nugent, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UIHC, said in a prepared statement.

Not only can the plane fly farther, it’s bigger — equivalent to a 12-seater, but equipped for one pilot, two medical professionals, a patient and one additional person. This means a family member may be able to ride with the patient, such as a parent flying with a sick child, UIHC reported.

The plane also can fly in weather than may ground a helicopter.

Started in 1979, UI AirCare was the first hospital-based air ambulance in Iowa and one of the first 15 programs in the nation, the hospital reported. AirCare now has helicopters at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo and Mercy Medical Center in Dubuque.

Gazette Investigation

IOWA CITY - Four years after the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics quietly outsourced its AirCare helicopter ambulance service to a for-profit corporation, the public hospital won't say how much money it's receiving from the company facing patient complaints about sky-high costs.

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Although the hospitals provide the medical care on AirCare flights, the aircraft all are owned by Air Methods, a Denver-based company founded in 1982 and now serving more than 40 states, according to the company’s 2016 annual report, the most recent report online. The company flew 71,700 patients in 2016, up 14 percent from the previous year, and reported revenue of $1.17 billion, up from $1 billion in 2015.

In April 2014, the UIHC signed a five-year, renewable contract with Rocky Mountain Holdings, an Air Methods subsidiary, making it the “preferred provider” for all helicopter transports to UIHC.

Air Methods sets the prices for air ambulance services and collects all flight fees.

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A Gazette investigation last June showed the company was facing several lawsuits regarding sky-high bills and there had been two complaints about Air Methods to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

Sixteen medical helicopters were registered with the Iowa Department of Transportation last year, including three in Des Moines and two in Clarinda.

UnityPoint Health has three medical helicopters, one each at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids, UnityPoint Health-Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, and UnityPoint-Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge.

The health care system does not have a plane, spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo said Friday.

“The UnityPoint Health Air Ambulance programs provide extensive air transport coverage to Iowa and its border states,” she said. “UnityPoint Health is able to assist patients with medical airplane transport services through relationships with its air transport vendors.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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