A decision by Kosciusko Community Hospital and Multi-Township EMS to utilize one air ambulance service over another could make the difference between life or death for some Kosciusko County patients.
An email distributed Wednesday by MTEMS directors Mark Pepple and Scott Sigerfoos to several emergency responders, stated MTEMS and KCH medical staff has made the decision to utilize Lutheran Air services as a “first call.” For years, both Lutheran and Samaritan have been used.
While most emergency responders we spoke to do not want to be identified for this article fearing repercussions for speaking out, they are all in agreement that the decision is strictly political and not in the best interest of county residents.
The email sent yesterday read, “After talking with our Medical Direction, Kosciusko Community Hospital, and reviewing our usage the decision has been made to utilize Lutheran Air as our first call.”
Although the email assured that times and services provided by both air ambulance services are “very comparable and both provide exceptional care,” the emergency responders we spoke with disagree, at least on the matter of response time.
Kevin McSherry is the president of the Kosciusko County Firemen’s Association and did agree to go on record. He said, “I’m afraid there’s more involved with this decision than patient care because of the Lutheran network … it’s kind of a dirty bird.”
Lutheran currently has just one helicopter that is stationed at the Fort Wayne airport. Samaritan has two helicopters, one at Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne and one less than 20 miles away from the county line at the Fulton County Airport in Rochester.
Pepple’s email said Lutheran will soon be stationing a second helicopter at the Wabash Airport, approximately 30 miles away in Miami County. “In the air that’s not a lot of time (distance), but the type of helicopter Samaritan uses most of the time is a faster model than what Lutheran uses,” said McSherry.
Samaritan, which is operated by nonprofit Parkview Hospital, travels at a speed of 180 mph. Lutheran Air, operated by for-profit Lutheran Health Network, travels at 150 mph. Samaritan’s website says average lift off time after receiving dispatch orders is 5.6 minutes. Lutheran Air’s website notes average lift off time is 7 minutes.
“We always train first responders that time is of the essence,” said one emergency responder who spoke on condition of anonymity, “so why are we now saying it’s OK to wait maybe 40 minutes at a scene for a critical patient when minutes matter?”
The real reason for the change in determining the first service called is likely based on the fact that KCH is a Lutheran Health Network hospital. As noted in the email from Pepple and Sigerfoos, “There is though a long-term benefit of Kosciusko County aligning with the Lutheran Health Network.”
And while the long-term benefit for KCH is obviously financial, the risk to the community cannot be overlooked. McSherry said first responders have a goal to save lives and get a patient medical attention as soon as possible. “I’m bullheaded enough that I’ll tell dispatch to call whoever I want. Fire departments will not lay down and be told what to do. I also feel very comfortable with the local personnel on Sam and we feel very good when we see them step off the aircraft,” he said.
McSherry, who also serves as the Burket Fire Department chief, added, “We have never used Lutheran Air in Burket. I heard the long-range plan is to put (a helicopter) at Warsaw Airport and that would be great for everyone in the county … but right now I’ve got to worry about my patrons in the southwest corner as well as Mickey Scott (Syracuse Fire Department chief) needs to think about his people up around Syracuse. Mark Pepple is playing with fire here.”
Pepple has told StaceyPageOnline.com that MTEMS does not comment on policy issues. Representatives of KCH and Lutheran Air have not yet returned our phone calls.
2 helicopters, Fort Wayne and Rochester 1 helicopter in Fort Wayne
Travels 180 mph Travels 150 mph
51% of flights are trauma-related No information on flights
Flight crew – pilot, nurse, paramedic Flight crew: pilot, nurse, paramedic
Can carry 2 patients Can carry 2 patients
100 mile radius of Fort Wayne and Rochester 150 mile radius of Fort Wayne
40% of flights are to trauma scenes 13% of flights are to trauma scenes
Average 5.6 minutes to lift off Average 7 minutes to lift off