Pictured left to right are Sen. Patty Ritchie's aide Mark Walczyk, Potsdam Mayor Stephen Yurgartis, Air Methods Vice President David Poulson, St. Lawrence County District II Legislator Dan Parker.
By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM – The new air ambulance service out of Potsdam’s Damon Field has created 14 good-paying jobs.
Air ambulance operator Air Methods is in the process of hiring four fully rated helicopter pilots, four critical care registered nurses, four critical care paramedics, and two mechanics for the twin-turbine American Eurocopter EC-135 that is based at the airport.
Most of those positions have been filled, and crews from other bases are covering while the rest of the required people are hired.
Most crew members will be working 12-hour shifts and taking their time off in crew quarters in a neighboring hangar.
Air Methods, under its LifeNet brand, officially began the service Oct. 1 and held a ribbon cutting at the airport Thursday evening.
The startup of the service marks the first time in five years that the county is covered by air ambulance service since the Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic service at Fort Drum was withdrawn in 2007.
Air Methods, the largest air ambulance service in the world, has 308 bases in 48 states. They made over 100,000 patient air transports last year.
They will cover St. Lawrence County and an area of roughly 100 miles in radius from the airport.
The helicopters require jet fuel for their turbine engines, which they are getting at Ogdensburg’s airport until arrangements are made to store it at Damon Field, Potsdam’s airport.
Village Mayor Stephen Yurgartis, Deputy Mayor Ruth Garner, Village Administrator David Fenton, County Legislator Dan Parker, and Air Methods personnel participated in the ribbon cutting Thursday night.
Yurgartis credited his predecessors, former mayors Ron Tischler and Garner, current administrator Fenton and his predecessor Michael Weil, trustees, the village’s airport committee, and village workers with building up the airport’s capacity to the point where bringing the service to Potsdam was possible.
Ann M. Smith, former director of the North Country EMS Program and now regional business development manager for Air Methods, expressed gratitude to the village for their support during the process.
Once the Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic (MAST) service was withdrawn, regional health authorities worked with agencies to begin replacing the service, which has now resulted in a new base in Potsdam and a similar one at Watertown’s airport in Dexter, Jefferson County. Air Methods has a third helicopter based at Fort Drum.
Research by authorities showed that in 2010 more than 500 emergencies at hospitals in the Fort Drum region met the criteria for air medical transport.
Smith said the service will be supplied on a “fee-for-service” basis. She said the company has its own billing department, and will bill charges to appropriate insurance companies. If insurance doesn’t fully cover the expenses, the emergency passenger will be billed, with some flexibility. Payment plans can be arranged, and other arrangements can frequently be made for those who cannot afford to pay, she said.
“We have a special program for people without insurance,” Smith said. And the company’s billing department will work with insurance companies to get the best result, she said. “They will advocate for patients to the insurance companies and ensure that claims are processed and paid correctly.”
Air Methods, based in Englewood, Colo., has 308 bases in 48 states. They made over 100,000 patient air transports last year.