It didn’t take long for CHI St. Joseph’s Health to find a replacement for its medical helicopter service.
Grand Forks-based Valley Med Flight agreed Tuesday to base a medical helicopter at the helipad of the new St. Joseph’s hospital under construction in Dickinson. Valley Med Flight will also provide fixed-wing aircraft support to southwest North Dakota from its existing bases.
“Our No. 1 concern is access for our patients,” said Reed Reyman, president of CHI St. Joseph’s Health. “We just know that a helicopter needs be based here and we know we have to have access to fixed wing, so we did all we could to get this in place.”
The agreement comes one week after Med-Trans Corp. announced it was terminating service of the Spirit Lifeline helicopter that had been based the hospital construction site for only a year.
Valley Med Flight is expected to have a Eurocopter AS350 B3e helicopter operating from the St. Joseph’s helipad by Oct. 1, Reyman said.
The medical service already has a footprint in western North Dakota, with a helicopter based at CHI Mercy Medical Center in Williston and fixed-wing aircraft bases in Williston and Sidney, Mont.
“We are very familiar with the payer information in North Dakota, as well as we have fixed-wings located throughout the state of North Dakota to be immediate available for inclement weather — which is very common in the North Dakota region in the winter time,” said Ben Dorman, vice president of Medical Operations and founder of Valley Med Flight.
Helicopters can’t fl y in bad weather or in low cloud cover, making the fixed-wing support crucial, Dorman said.
Dorman said it is also helpful to patients that Valley Med Flight is familiar with North Dakota insurance companies and policies, which he said helps keep the cost of using his service relatively affordable. The Spirit Lifeline medical helicopter cost about $25,000 before insurance, according to previous Press articles.
Dorman said the “average out-of-pocket cost to patients” who use Valley Med Flight is $470.
“We operate in a lot of smaller areas,” Dorman said. “Obviously, if we were taking peoples homes and cars, we wouldn’t be in business anymore.”
Reyman said the existing relationship between St. Joseph’s parent company Catholic Health Initiatives’ and Valley Med Flight helped in getting a deal worked out.
“We were very fortunate we got on this,” he said. “This is the really nice part about being part of a large system such as CHI. We were able to get the contacts we needed and tap into some of the relationships that had already been built to make this happen as quickly as it did. That’s very helpful.”
Reyman said he expects a “long-term partnership” between CHI St. Joseph’s Health and Valley Med Flight.
“We’re anxious for them to come just because we know the community needs it,” he said.