by nathan oster
REACH Air Medical Services has touched down in the Bighorn Basin, establishing a medical helicopter base in Cody earlier this week and positioning itself to open a fixed-wing airplane base at the South Big Horn County Airport in Greybull on Monday, Feb. 15.
Both bases will provide round-the-clock, life‐saving emergency air medical care to area residents. The well-trained flight crew consists of a flight nurse, flight paramedic, and pilot. These highly skilled teams provide critical care during transport.
“Opening these bases in the Big Horn Basin benefits the community in many ways,” states Sean Russell, president of REACH Air Medical Services. “Our airplane in Greybull and our helicopter in Cody will increase our ability to serve patients in the region. REACH has been providing patients with high-quality care for nearly 30 years and to date, we have transported more than 100,000 patients to needed care. The Wyoming bases, along with our bases in Montana and Colorado, will support the region as a whole. When minutes matter, having an air medical transport service in the community saves lives.”
Dr. David Fairbanks, the medical director for the Cody and Greybull bases, is excited to have this resource serving the area. “We’ve got a great team ready to serve the area. The collective experience of both paramedics and nurses averages 13 years of critical care and 5 years in flight critical care.”
Dr. Fairbanks adds, “I am grateful that we will bring patients to the critical medical care they need in a timely fashion.”
Dr. Fairbanks and Ellen Stiner, program manager for the Cody and Greybull bases, spoke at length about what REACH’s arrival will mean to residents in the Bighorn Basin.
“I view this as two years of hard work paying off,” said Fairbanks, in a Feb. 5 interview with the Standard. “When I came here, I wanted to make sure we reduced the time it takes to get people to what we couldn’t provide at South Big Horn County Hospital.” Now that it’s here, “it’s very exciting,” said Fairbanks.
He said just because the fixed wing is here, it doesn’t mean everyone is going to be sent via air transport. Ground transport will continue to be used. But in those emergencies in which every minute is crucial, the aircraft — both helicopter and plane — will play a key role.
Mark George, who piloted the plane that landed at the airport Tuesday afternoon, said it took him 12 minutes to fly in from Cody. The plane can make it to Billings in 27 minutes, to Denver in 1 hour, 12 minutes.
The REACH plane that landed on Tuesday had not yet been equipped to be an “ICU in the sky,” but Stiner said she anticipated it would ready to go by today (Thursday, Feb. 11). The service officially begins on Monday, Feb. 15.
REACH has rented a home in Greybull for members of the crew, who will rotate in and out with their shifts. REACH won’t hit the ground running with a full crew but hopes to eventually have a staff of four RNs, four paramedics and four pilots. On each shift, one of each will be on duty. To start, they will run on 10-hour shifts.
REACH has entered into agreements with Big Horn County to use the airport and with B&G Industries to use the buildings as well as space inside its hangar for its aircraft.
Dave Stinar told the Greybull Town Council Monday that REACH was “excited” to be part of the community. He added that he envisioned the helicopter and airplane being swapped back and forth between Cody and Greybull.
REACH asked for, but has yet to receive funding from the county for the services it provides.
Instead, it relies upon memberships with members of the communities that it serves. A one-year membership with REACH costs $65 per household and covers everyone in that particular household.
Say, for example, that a person sustains life-threatening injuries in a car accident and is transported to South Big Horn Hospital in Greybull/Basin or North Big Horn Hospital in Lovell. “Now say you need to go to Denver,” said Stiner. “The hospital calls us, we pick them up and take them to Denver. We will bill their insurance, and whatever the insurance doesn’t cover, the membership takes care of the rest.”
Fairbanks said it works as the same way as a AAA membership. “You pay $65 a year hoping you won’t need it, but if you do, you’re covered and everybody in your household is covered, too.”
REACH is a provider for the AirMedCare Network, the nation’s largest emergency air medical transport membership program. Members are covered for out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an emergency air transport by REACH or another AirMedCare Network provider. For a low-cost annual fee, individuals and companies may join more than two million members who receive coverage from more than 220 air base transport locations across 32 states coast to coast.
REACH Air Medical Services, headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif., provides critical care air and ground transport service to communities throughout California, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Texas, Colorado and Wyoming. ‘
For more information about REACH, visit reachair.com.