Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Early Memorial Day morning, I heard the clatter of a helicopter over the house.
This isn't unusual - we live just a little more than a mile from Central Michigan Community Hospital and helicopter ambulances fly in and out of the hospital on a regular basis.
The early-morning flight, however, was unusual, and I didn't immediately recognize the markings on this air ambulance.
I know St. Mary's FlightCare, Covenant LifeNet and Spectrum Aero Med, but I couldn't place this one. I finished loading TheMorningSun.com's Memorial Day edition, then drove over to take a look.
It turned out to be a University of Michigan Survival Flight helicopter, done in maize and blue (talk about branding), and it didn't spend a lot of time on the ground.
I don't know anything about the patient who was being transferred to Ann Arbor at dawn on a holiday or why they were being sent there. I do know that helicopter flights aren't taken lightly.
I've had the opportunity to ride a helicopter ambulance twice: once as an observer (I love my job), and once as a patient. I'm pretty sure that flight 12 years ago saved, if not my life, my ability to function.
But a helicopter ride in a fully staffed air ambulance isn't cheap. It's tough to get an average price for a helicopter ambulance flight, but I've seen cost estimates anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000. A 2007 British study put the average cost at ₤6,000, or about $8,700.
No one - no one - faced with the potential loss of a loved one's life does this calculation: "Well, that helicopter will cost $9,000, plus the cost of the hospital stay ... We can get a nice funeral done for about $6,000 ... Let's just keep Mom here and not tell her."
A generation ago, there might not have been any other option but to start picking out Mom's casket. Options are better now.
The question is how it's paid for.
Posted by Mark at 7:31 AM