With negotiations on acquiring a new county Trauma Star helicopter ambulance well under way, efforts to hire a 10-person medical team to staff the Lower Keys aircraft could begin within days.
Monroe County commissioners, meeting today in Key West, will be asked by Trauma Star administrators if they can begin advertising for the full-time positions.
“Everything is moving forward,” Monroe County Fire Chief James Callahan said of talks to purchase a 2002 Sikorsky S-76 C-Plus rescue helicopter nearly identical to the one bought last year to update the county’s Trauma Star service. The first 2002 Sikorsky cost abound $2.5 million.
“We’ve got the first option to buy it,” Callahan said. “At the direction of the commission, our goal is to buy it as soon as possible.”
As outlined in a meeting summary, additional Trauma Star staff — four flight paramedics, four flight nurses, a supervisor and billing specialist — would cost a total of $947,662 annually for salaries and benefits. A projected cost for the balance of the current fiscal year was put at $552,803.
“This helicopter will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the purpose of ensuring continuation of air medical transport services to the Keys,” the summary says.
Trauma Star, jointly operated by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and county Fire-Rescue, flies its primary helicopter from Florida Keys Marathon International Airport. A 1982 helicopter that has become increasingly expensive to maintain serves as a backup.
LifeNet, a private firm currently flying air-rescue missions from the Lower Keys under an agreement with Lower Keys Medical Center, has been criticized over its costly billing rates and high-pressure collection efforts.
Executives of Air Methods, the Colorado company that operates LifeNet, has agreed to lower its flight costs but sought a $400,000 annual subsidy from Monroe County. That subsidy was denied by county commissioners in January as commissioners voted to seek the third Trauma Star helicopter.
County Administrator Roman Gastesi has contended that operational costs for Trauma Star (not including cost of purchasing the aircraft) have been nearly matched by collections from insurance payments and billing out-of-county residents. Monroe County residents are not billed beyond what their health insurance provides.
If LifeNet leaves the Keys, company employees would be welcome to apply for the new Trauma Star positions in the Lower Keys, Callahan said. “We would certainly look at everyone,” he said, “but that’s not a guarantee all would be hired.”
Trauma Star flew 528 patients to mainland hospitals in 2016.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206