American Medflight resumes its service to Elko
An agreement with Renown Health opened the door for Reno-based American Medflight to resume its service to Elko.
The company has re-established a base in Elko after a six-year absence. It’s stationed one two-engine Piper Cheyenne aircraft at Elko Regional Airport and hired eight staff in Elko.
John Burruel, vice president and chief pilot of American Medflight, said the agreement with Renown is likely to encourage Elko-area physicians to refer patients for transfer to the Reno hospital.
The Elko area also is served by Summit Air Ambulance, a Caldwell, Idaho, company that provides both fixed-wing and helicopter air ambulance service to northeastern Nevada.
Summit Air Ambulance has a first-call agreement with Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital in Elko, and that agreement six years ago led American Medflight to exit the Elko market after more than a dozen years.
Burruel said American Medflight estimates it will serve about 200 patients a year from its Elko operation. Many of them, he said, will be coming to Reno rather other major medical centers such as Salt Lake City.
“We want to help keep patients in Nevada,” he said.
The company already has operated a base at Ely, and Burruel said the volume of patients in eastern Nevada and western Utah has risen sufficiently to support Elko operations even if its competitor has the first-call agreement with Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital.
American Medflight hired four pilots, two flight nurses and two flight paramedics for the Elko operation.
But the economic impacts flow back to Reno, too.
The company now operates four bases — Reno and Susanville, Calif., in addition to the eastern Nevada airports — and the growth drove the need for four additional administrative staffers in its Reno headquarters, Burruel said.
Overall, he said the company has added 20 jobs in three years. It now employs more than 50, most of whom earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year.
The addition of new bases and staff provides greater operational flexibility to the company.
Like Southwest Airlines, which flies Boeing 737 aircraft almost exclusively to reduce maintenance hassles, American Medflight flies only Piper Cheyenne aircraft. The twin-engine turboprop planes travel at about 300 mph.
With more pilots on its staff, Burruel said it becomes easier to cover vacations, days off or other needs.
The company was transporting about 1,000 patients a year even before it resumed service to Elko. It’s licensed to transport patients anywhere in the lower 48 states, and most of its flights arrive in Reno, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Sacramento.
With its return to Elko, American Medflight is pushing its SaveAir membership program, which waives out-of-pocket costs for air-ambulance service for patients who have paid a $45 annual fee.
Typically, Burruel said, patients with health insurance pay 20 percent of the costs of air ambulance service out of pocket.
American Medflight was launched 30 years ago as a service of Reno Flying Service. It was spun off into a separate, employee-owned company in 1993.
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