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 bdean@opubco.com Modified: August 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm •  Published: August 1, 2013
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The standards also give specific regulations for when and how aircraft can be operated under various weather and terrain conditions, safety program requirements and continuing education.

The OU study was completed in 2012, before the two most recent crashes. The authors concluded that requiring accreditation would be a wise decision despite some complications it could create.

“The CAMTS requirements are the industry standard, and have truly become the ‘minimum acceptable' performance level,” the study said.

One complication is that the aviation standards required by the commission go beyond Federal Aviation Administration requirements. The state is not able to regulate aviation because that is the domain of the federal government, the study said.

Ivester said he'd like to see more formal regulation of the industry not only as it pertains to safety but also pricing. The OU study found the average cost of a medical helicopter flight is about $20,000.

The flights can be covered by insurance similar to an ambulance ride, but Ivester said he has heard from many people who have received bills they cannot possibly pay after being flown on a medical helicopter.

Such a flight isn't optional.

The decision to call in a medical helicopter is a clinical decision made by a doctor or paramedic.

“Even if their prices were cut in half, which would be a lot, it's still an enormous cost,” Ivester said. “It's necessary, but if it's going to cost $20,000 and insurance isn't going to cover it, it's not like the people who need it have a choice.”

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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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