LifeMed Alaska announced a new year-round base is open in Kodiak to serve the local community and surrounding areas. The new operation includes an aircraft capable of carrying up to two patients per flight, with a range of approximately 1,400 miles.
The aircraft has been stationed in Kodiak for two weeks now, and has already conducted numerous flights to Anchorage, said LifeMed CEO Russel Edwards.
Edwards said the idea for the Kodiak operation came from a discussion he had with a doctor in Kodiak, who indicated that the time that could be saved by stationing an aircraft in Kodiak would benefit many patients.
By stationing a plane in Kodiak, the company is able to shave the time it takes from when a call is received to when the plane can leave the island from four hours to one-and-a-half hours. Before adding the new service in Kodiak, any medical evacuation could only be conducted once a plane flew from Anchorage to Kodiak.
Edwards said that because of adverse weather, landing in Kodiak is often harder than taking off.
“As everyone on the island has realized, it’s easier to get off the island than it is to get on,” he said. The new service will increase the number of times that LifeMed is able to answer the call for a medical evacuation.
“Our dedicated Kodiak base is one of several new initiatives which will have a significantly positive impact on more patients around our great state,” Russel said in a press release. “With the opening of our new base on Kodiak we are better able to serve the people of that community and many others nearby, which is in line with LifeMed’s desire to ensure the best medical transportation to the most communities around Alaska.”
Edwards said the service provided will be limited mostly to working with Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, the only hospital on the island, to conduct medevacs for further medical care in Anchorage. However, the company will be able to work directly with the City of Kodiak Fire Department and the Coast Guard when a transfer is needed directly from an ambulance or from a Coast Guard medevac from a remote location. Due to the size of the aircraft and the limited length of the airstrips in Kodiak’s remote villages, he said that direct medical evacuations from villages to Anchorage are probably unlikely.
In addition to the plane, the Kodiak operation will include rotation crews of a pilot, paramedic and nurse. One pilot and some medical team members are based in Kodiak, while others will be flown in as they rotate between LifeMed’s other stations.
A LifeMed representative originally said the company intended to launch the Kodiak service last month. The delay is likely due to a plane crash in Unalaska last month. The plane’s occupants — a pilot, paramedic and nurse — were safely rescued from a LifeMed aircraft after it crashed into Unalaska Bay shortly after takeoff. The company briefly suspended operations after the crash.
The aircraft stationed in Kodiak — a Beechcraft King Air 200 twin engine turboprop — is a model identical to the one that crashed in Unalaska. Steve Gonzalez, a marketing specialist working with LifeMed, said the FAA investigation of the incident is likely to take a few months.
LifeMed is leasing hangar space in the Kodiak airport from Servant Air, a former air carrier that owns a hangar at the airport, according to Phil Smith, Kodiak airport foreman.
The company offers 24/7 critical care air ambulance services with full-scope transports for adult, pediatric, neonatal and high-risk obstetric patients, according to a news release. LifeMed recently entered a partnership with the Blood Bank of Alaska that enables them to carry plasma in all of their planes, which would allow them to offer on-site blood transfusions.
Kodiak joined regional bases in Anchorage, Bethel, Dutch Harbor, Fairbanks, Juneau, Palmer and Soldotna. It is currently the only medical evacuation service with a plane permanently stationed in Kodiak. Numerous other medical evacuation companies provide service to the island.
LifeMed Alaska offers a Family Membership program at a cost of $49 per year that covers out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary air or ground transport provided by LifeMed Alaska. Gonzalez said that depending on the type of service required, the cost of a trip without insurance coverage could be several thousands of dollars.