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Private company will raise costs for Lee County emergency airlifts

Feb. 17, 2013
Florida Highway Patrol troopers attended to a crash in the southbound lanes of I-75 near the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard exit. NEWS-PRESS FILE
Florida Highway Patrol troopers attended to a crash in the southbound lanes of I-75 near the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard exit. NEWS-PRESS FILE

If you go

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. inside the commission’s chambers, 2120 Main St., Fort Myers.


Lee County’s top pick to privatize Medstar will charge patients 50 percent more than its publicly run predecessor collected on emergency airlifts.

Under a deal commissioners will consider Tuesday, Air Methods sets its base fee at $13,504 and charges $135 per mile.

While patients will pay more, Lee coffers will be spared about $2 million a year, county officials estimate.

Commission Chairman Cecil Pendergrass said even if Lee County kept Medstar, it would raise rates from the $8,500 take-off fee and $90 per air mile that was billed to patients.

“They weren’t charging enough, that’s why they were losing money,” Pendergrass said. “Now the taxpayers won’t be paying for that.”

Lee County’s savings is realized by dropping Medstar from its budget. County officials shut down the 34-year-old public safety service in August after they mismanaged it: Improperly billing patients and creating a toxic work environment for employees, an audit by the Clerk of Courts concluded.

County coffers will collect some money after Air Methods helps sell two helicopters. One of those helicopters, a Bell 430, county officials bought in 2010 and took about a year to fix at a cost of $3.4 million. It was never able to fly patients for a fee, because public safety managers failed to meet federal operating standards.

The proposed contract would last for one-year, with an option for county employees to renew it four times for a total of five years, according to county documents.

While Air Methods will supply the helicopter, pilots and mechanics, Lee will continue to oversee the medical aspect of operations.

County paramedics will man the company’s helicopter, possibly providing an extra measure of oversight.

“I think it will keep both sides on their toes,” Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall said. “At the end of the day what we want is quality care.”

Air Methods plans to pay the paramedics, while Lee County continues to fund its retirement benefits, according to county officials.

Lee County also will dispatch the company’s helicopter to 911-emergencies and area hospitals for airlifts between facilities, according to county management.

Air Methods will lease out Lee County’s recently built, multimillion dollar Medstar Hangar at Page Field for $3,500 a month, according to county documents.

Those contributions were considered part of the county’s estimated $2 million savings, Assistant County Manager Holly Schwartz said.

Second choice

Lee County’s second choice, Med-Trans, would charge patients between $18,000 and $20,000 including mileage fees, according to county documents.

The third and last ranked choice for a county contract, Aeromed, wanted to charge about $13,500 with slightly lower mileage fees at $117.

That company has been filling in for Medstar. It offered to provide paramedics and medical staff, but it declined to station its helicopter at Page Field, according to county documents.

If the commission moves forward with Air Methods, Schwartz said staff will work quickly to finalize a contract.

“We need to get on it immediately,” Schwartz said.

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