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Four private companies bid to take over emergency medical flights in proposals that offer Lee County officials varying degrees of control and cost.

Commissioners will review the offers at their Nov. 5 management and planning meeting, although they have yet to decide whether they want to try and reinstate county-run medical flights.

The clerk of court will finish an audit of Medstar several days before commissioners review the companies’ offers.

Two of the companies, Aeromed and Med-Trans, propose performing medical flights at no cost to the county. But neither company lists the fees they will charge patients. Aeromed has been flying for Medstar since August.

“Med-Trans will provide, pilot, flight nurse and maintenance staff for the program at no cost to the county,” Med-Trans’ Brian Burrell writes. “The sole source of revenue from the program will be generated from billing and collections to the patients and their insurance carriers.”

Keystone Med-Flight and Metro Aviation would afford government officials greater control in running the public safety service.

Those companies offer to charge the county a flat fee, while the county bills patients to recoup costs.

Metro Aviation’s Kenny Morrow writes that the plan avoids some of the potential pitfalls of turning the service over to a provide provider.

“If there is simply not enough revenue to cover that company’s expenses in addition to earning a profit, that company will either reduce the level of services in order to reach that objective or pull out of Lee County if it is not possible to reach that objective,” Morrow writes.

Both companies provide an outline of prices that vary depending on terms that have yet to be determined by county officials.

The most basic service, managing the county’s flight program and its compliance with Federal Aviation Administration rules, would cost the county $25,000 a month plus any additional costs, according to one of the proposals offered by Keystone Med-Flight.

“This is the simplest and quickest route to getting back in service,” according to Keystone Med-Flight’s letter.

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Charlie Whitehead, the no party affiliation candidate for Commission District 3, said he worries the county could encounter even more problems if they hand over emergency flights to a private company.

“I believe public safety is job No. 1 and those services should be provided directly by our government,” Whitehead said. “I don’t mean to criticize private companies, but a private company, by its very definition is faithful to its bottom line. It’s in business to make money.”

Whitehead recalled Estero Fire Rescue’s failed 1997 experiment in privatization when it brought in Wackenhut to respond to emergencies.

In just eight months on the job, a company firefighter died in a brush fire, prompting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to cite the company.

The private firefighters also made headlines when they drove by the scene of a roll-over car crash that dispatchers repeatedly told them to stop at, according to published reports. The firefighters were on their way to another crash, according to the reports.

In September, Aeromed couldn’t answer Estero Fire Rescue’s call for a helicopter, because of a mechanical malfunction. It took first responders 53 minutes to free a 19-year-old from a truck and transport him to Lee Memorial, according to dispatch logs.

Larry Kiker, the Republican candidate for the commission’s district 3 seat, said he thinks the county should explore consolidating its services with the sheriff’s department, which flies law enforcement helicopters.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office once flew medical flights and remains a back up the county’s current service in the event of emergencies, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s website.

Nine county staffers will meet Oct. 24 to review the offers.

Consultants Bob Inscoe and Chris Hansen will also attend. The two were contracted to consult for the county after Medstar was shutdown. Hansen also sits on the Lee Memorial board of directors.

Lastly, Washington, D.C.-based attorney David Hernandez was invited to help review the applications. County officials contracted him in September to deal with the FAA violations they racked up by billing for $3.3 million in medical flights without meeting safety mandates.

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