Air ambulance to locate base at Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — An emergency air medical transport company serving Clallam and Jefferson counties will be based at William R. Fairchild International Airport beginning March 29, company and Port of Port Angeles officials announced Thursday.

A Life Flight Network representative called the port’s John Nutter, who oversees the airport, on Friday morning, toured the port-owned airport Friday afternoon, and agreed Wednesday after meeting with Olympic Medical Center officials to base emergency transport aircraft at the west Port Angeles airfield, the officials said Thursday.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Jacob Dalstra, Life Flight regional director.

“This is an area we’ve been looking at for quite some time.”

Nutter said he consulted individually with port Commissioners Connie Beauvais, Colleen McAleer and Steven Burke before the verbal agreement was reached with Life Flight.

He said he will present a written agreement with Life Flight for the commissioners’ approval at their March 12 meeting.

The crew will be capable of responding to calls for transport from anywhere in Western Washington and Southeast Alaska, the company said in a press release.

Port Angeles is one of the few places in Washington state that an emergency helicopter cannot reach within 30 minutes, Dalstra said.

Airlift Northwest, which currently provides emergency medical flights from Port Angeles from its base in Bremerton, takes 35 minutes to reach Port Angeles, said Dr. Scott Kennedy, Olympic Medical Center chief medical officer.

Nutter — the port director of properties, marina and airports — said Life Flight agreed to lease 2,300 square feet of office space and 7,000 square feet of hangar space from the port at Fairchild. The are was formerly leased by Rite Bros. Aviation, which remains in another location at the airport.

Life Flight also will lease 2,500 square feet of office space at the airport industrial park.

Under the three-year agreement, Life Flight will pay the port $4,875 a month or $175,500 over 36 months.

The company will hire 15 to 20 full-time pilots, mechanics, flight nurses and paramedics as soon as possible, Dalstra said.

Life Flight’s press release announcing it is opening a new base in Port Angeles was issued Wednesday through the public relations firm Berg & Associates of Portland, Ore., Life Flight’s 24th emergency flight base in the Pacific Northwest.

According to the release, an Agusta-Westland helicopter and a Pilatus PC-12 fixed-wing aircraft at Fairchild will provide medical transport for “medically necessary and emergent conditions” under a $65 annual membership fee.

Emergency air transportation via Life Flight otherwise begins at $19,993 and can exceed $100,000 for international flights, according to an FAQ at the company’s website athttp://tinyurl.com/PDN-LifeFlight.

Based in Aurora, Ore., the not-for-profit medical transport company is owned by Oregon Health & Science University, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and Providence Health & Services.

Life Flight reciprocal partners include Airlift Northwest, operated by UW Medicine.

Kennedy said OMC staff and Airlift, also a not-for-profit, never got beyond “very informal discussions” about basing Airlift Northwest aircraft in Port Angeles instead of Bremerton.

“We’ve always wanted to base [emergency aircraft] at Fairchild, in Port Angeles, closer to the hospital to minimize time flying for critical patients,” Kennedy said.

“Time is heart, time is brain,” he said.

“When you have a blocked artery to the brain or in the heart, the coronaries, you want to minimize the time to get the location to open that up again.”

Jefferson Healthcare hospital officials also viewed the announcement in a positive light.

“We are pleased additional transport resources will be available for our community,” said Tina Toner, chief nursing officer for Jefferson Healthcare.

“This increases the options for those needing air lift service and in the end it’s all about helping our patients and our community.”

Kennedy said hospital officials learned this week that Life Flight was setting up a base at Fairchild.

Kennedy said that Airlift Northwest will continue to be used for emergency flights based on physicians’ decisions that include factors such as the degree of emergency that is present and availability of service.

Dalstra said the airport was “a good fit” for its operations.

Airlift Northwest Chief Flight Nurse Brenda Nelson said Airlift views Life Flight as partners in health care and will continue working collaboratively with the service.

“We were surprised they are opening [a base] in Port Angeles,” Nelson said.

“We feel like we’ve served the area for 35-plus years well.

“This is a new environment for us.

“Having competition close by is nothing Airlift has had to experience before.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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