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Oklahoma state senator wants to look at medical helicopter safety

A series of recent fatal medical helicopter crashes in Oklahoma have prompted discussions about safety in the industry. Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Sayre, said it's time that discussion began at the state Capitol.
BY BRYAN DEAN Modified: August 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm •  Published: August 1, 2013

A state legislator said Thursday he is ready to bring the discussion about medical helicopter safety to the state Capitol.

Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Sayre, said the service is critical in rural areas of the state where someone who is gravely injured may be hundreds of miles from OU Medical Center, the state's only level one trauma center.

“It saves lives,” Ivester said. “There is no doubt about it. The question would be is it overused and is it as safe as it should be. It's definitely something I am going to look into.”

Ivester said he is considering a recommendation made in a recent study by the University of Oklahoma's emergency medicine department, which suggested making accreditation mandatory for medical helicopter companies.

According to the study, all of the medical helicopter companies operating in Oklahoma are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems. But accreditation is strictly voluntary.

The main motivation behind recent discussion on medical helicopter companies is a series of fatal crashes of aircraft operated by Kansas-based EagleMed. The company's accreditation was put on-hold after the most recent crash in June, the third since 2010 and the second this year.

EagleMed had just received its three-year accreditation before a February crash in Oklahoma City killed two people and injured a third.

Eileen Frazer, executive director of the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, said the commission will make a supplemental visit to the company and look for trends in light of the series of crashes and also will review the results of official investigations of the crashes by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The most recent edition of the commission's accreditation standards is more than 80 pages long and covers every aspect of operating a medical transport service.

It spells out everything from the education and credentials that should be required of medical personnel, pilots and maintenance workers to the kinds of administrative positions the company should have.

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Accreditation for medical helicopter companies

Following are some of the standards required for accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems:

• Proper financial commitment to support patient care and safety

• Proper insurance coverage for equipment, medical malpractice, workers' compensation and life insurance for personnel.

• Marketing and education programs that include information such as hours of operation, coverage area, type of vehicles operated, capabilities of medical personnel and licensure information

• Ethical business practices demonstrated with a written code of conduct outlining standards, billing practices and contact information for reporting breaches of ethical conduct

• A corporate compliance officer must be responsible for ensuring the service follows all laws and regulations

• Standards for various mission types including staffing levels and medical qualifications of the personnel required.

• Specific education, training and continuing education standards

• Design requirements for aircraft such that they allow for proper medical care

• Policy and procedure requirements for preventing infection and the spread of communicable disease

• Specific flight and equipment safety procedures that go beyond FAA requirements

• Pilot qualifications and regulations including how long a pilot can fly before a relief pilot must take over

• Specific maintenance requirements


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