Care Flight contract safe with Barton |

Care Flight contract safe with Barton

Sarah Gonser

An outside bid never got off the ground, leaving Care Flight -South Shore’s only air ambulance service for 18 years – with the skies to itself.

A proposal earlier this year by Mountain Lifeflight, an air ambulance service based out of Susanville, Calif., fell through when South Shore’s medical community, led by Barton Memorial Hospital, refused to endorse the newcomer, said Dave Reger, Lifeflight president and director of operations.

Claiming he was elbowed out by inside politics and favoritism, Reger said he now plans to wait and see if the situation will change in his favor.

“I’m not mad. I just know that South Lake Tahoe is the type of community that could support an air ambulance service,” Reger said Friday. “But if you don’t have the support of the entire medical community, you just can’t do it. My goal remains to put an air ambulance service in South Tahoe.”

According to Barton’s Kathy Cocking, director of hospital operations, Mountain Lifeflight was given a fair chance to establish an air ambulance service at Lake Tahoe Airport. She said she even invited a Lifeflight representative to a nursing managers meeting for a presentation. But failure to follow permit and paperwork protocol, Cocking said, forced Barton to reject Lifeflight.

“There were lots of bookkeeping issues they hadn’t taken care of. We left it open and let them know we were interested,” Cocking said. “After that, Care Flight said they would like to offer us additional service by stationing a second helicopter in Gardnerville.”

Cocking said she and Barton CEO Bill Gordon both agreed the additional helicopter would be an excellent addition to Care Flight’s service and that they would encourage such an investment.

“At that point, I approached Mountain Lifeflight and told them we had all the service we needed,” Cocking said. “Since we had such a good relationship with Care Flight, I said we would refer our patients to them first – and if Mountain Lifeflight got all their ducks in a row, we would consider referring to them afterward.”

Care Flight vice president Jane Miller said she was not involved in any of the dealings with Mountain Lifeflight but was cognizant the competition could seriously impact Care Flight service into the Tahoe Basin.

“You can’t stop a person from opening a business,” Miller said. “But the less patients you have, the more expensive it becomes for each patient to be airlifted. Clearly, it would have the potential of impacting our business – but (Mountain Lifeflight) starting a business up there has nothing to do with us.”

In the meantime, while Care Flight explores whether the additional Gardnerville helicopter is worth the investment, Reger said he is biding his time.

“My inclination is that Care Flight has done this as a knee-jerk reaction, I’m not convinced they can afford it,” Reger said. “They have added more people and more aircraft expense to cover the same area – it could be a dangerous situation financially.”

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