By STEVE KADEL
Efforts are underway to permanently house an airplane at South Big Horn County Airport for fast transportation of local residents or tourists who suffer medical emergencies.
Dr. David Fairbanks updated board members of the South Big Horn County Hospital District on progress toward that goal during the board’s May 27 meeting.
He and Dr. Dusty Hill traveled to Wichita, Kan., last year to meet with officials of EagleMed, a privately owned and operated air medical transport service that has been in business more than 30 years. They sat down with EagleMed President Larry Bugg and the company’s national director of business development, Chuck Welch.
Fairbanks said he and Hill urged them “to consider a fixed wing base of operations in Greybull to better meet the medical needs of our patients in Big Horn County. I know that this has launched a process of careful consideration.”
The company already has a helicopter in Cody, and that craft can reach Greybull in 23 minutes from the time a call is made. However, Fairbanks said during an interview that a fixed wing plane would have several advantages.
Airplanes can fly in worse weather conditions than helicopters, he said. A plane also has more room to provide treatment, which allows it to become an intensive care unit in the air. There isn’t room in a helicopter for equipment and crew needed for that, said Fairbanks, who is chief of staff and emergency room director at South Big Horn County Hospital.
He said EagleMed has been adding services in the region, including stationing a helicopter in Butte, Mont., and is seriously considering expansion in Big Horn County.
“EagleMed is always actively looking for viable opportunities to expand, especially in a great state like Wyoming,” Welch said. “We have happily served the citizens of north-central Wyoming for over two years and would love nothing more than to expand this service at some time.”
Fairbanks hopes it happens soon. He’s become so involved in the emergency transport issue that he serves as one of EagleMed’s medical advisers. He helps train the Cody crews and holds meetings with them to discuss what’s working and what can be done better.
“Their crews are top-notch, but if I can help with their training I want to do that,” Fairbanks said.
Hospital board vice chairman Jeff Grant gave his support to the proposal during last week’s meeting.
“I’m anxious to have this all in place,” he said.
Hospital Administrator Jackie Claudson agreed, saying it should be a priority.
Gary Robson of Cody is EagleMed’s membership coordinator for this area. He said it would cost $51,250 to make every Big Horn County resident a member of the flight service. That would give everyone access to the company’s service with no out-of-pocket costs for trips to large hospitals from Big Horn County.
Those who opted to pay $35 would receive the same coverage no matter where they were in the U.S. when an emergency struck, Robson said. He noted that Worland and Cody are vying for the fixed wing plane just as Greybull is.
“One of the things they look for is community support,” Robson said. “The Worland commissioners have approved a site plan.”
He has appeared before Big Horn County commissioners seeking for them to pay the $51,250 countywide coverage fee. So far, he’s been unsuccessful.
Commissioner Felix Carrizales said there’s no money in next year’s budget for the request, although he believes the service is valuable.
“It really isn’t in the cards” to use county money to enroll citizens here, he said.
That’s not stopping Fairbanks in his quest, though.
“It’s been my goal ever since coming here to increase the quality and access to the care we have,” he said. “Whatever we can’t provide here, I want to provide to our community quickly and safely.
“Unfortunately, I see the tragedies that happen. People do their four-wheeling and ride horses, but you never think you will be the one who falls off the horse.”
COURTESY PHOTO Standing beside an EagleMed airplane are, from left, Crystal Knutson, registered nurse; pilot Brent Peters; and David Fairbanks, flight medical director.