ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s emergency medical system is considering changing the role of private companies in air transports from accident scenes, but the State Police and lawmakers said any change would disrupt emergency services.
Private companies told state regulators this week the state’s dispatch system should send the closest helicopter, public or private, rather than only State Police helicopters, to accidents. They said they want the entire air transport system to be both public and private.
Private companies do provide the majority of hospital-to-hospital transfers, which are arranged through the hospital, not through the emergency response system, while State Police handle almost all of the accident scene air transports.
Of the approximately 7,500 medical air transports in the state, 5,300 are accident scene calls and 2,200 are hospital calls for patient transfers.
The State Police has decreased its involvement in hospital transfers by 7 percent in three years, and now such transfers amount to only 5 percent of their work.
Several meetings have taken place between private carriers and the state to draft an agreement, said Jim Brown, spokesman for the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, which regulates the medical air transports.
STAT Medevac and MedStar Health, two private companies, denied wanting to dismantle the State Police’s role in medical transports at a Senate Budget and Taxation meeting Tuesday.
However, STAT MedEvac put together a document detailing the benefits of integrating private carriers and eliminating Maryland State Police from medical evacuation operations.
The document outlines the savings and benefits to the state if private carriers are permitted to respond to scene transports, up to $18 million if the state’s helicopters are sold.
Maj. Donald G. Lewis, state aviation division commander, compared privatizing the air transport system to the children’s rhyme Humpty Dumpty.
“If this machine gets taken apart, it will not get put together again,” said Lewis.
Lewis cited the aviation system’s cost efficiency and 70,000 accident-free hours as evidence that the State Police aviation system needs no fixing.
Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery, was surprised during the meeting when Lewis mentioned the possibility of private companies responding to scene calls.
“You don’t take a premier service in the state of Maryland and can it. . . . I’ve never heard of anything like that,” said Ruben. “If the State Police is doing its job well, which it is, I’m not interested in promoting business over someone’s life,” she said.
Sen. James DeGrange Sr, D-Anne Arundel, also opposes the change.
“I don’t think there will be an outpouring to privatize the system,” he said.
MedStar Health and STAT MedEvac, said there should be an increased involvement in scene responses.
“We are not promoting privatization,” said Edward Rupert, program director of MedStar Health, which operates medical air transport from Anne Arundel County.
“We’ve been working with the State Police for 20 years and we don’t want anything to negatively impact that relationship,” Rupert said. “Our take is that there should be public and private cooperation.”
Although the state has not reached a decision, the two groups continue to work together to reach an agreement.
“The bottom line is the patient outcome and the safety of the helicopter crews,” said Brown. “We will continue to work with them and they’re willing to work with us.”