Even though Primary Children's Medical Center recently got its own helicopter to fly its sick newborns in, the hospital says it still plans to transport 40 percent fewer babies by helicopter than did the University Hospital's now-defunct neonatal team.
LDS Hospital's LifeFlight air ambulance service recently leased an Alouette III 316B, raising to three the number of ambulance helicopters in the Salt Lake Valley. Life-Flight leased the new helicopter particularly for the transportation of newborns and had it specially equipped for that purpose, said Bonnie Midget, spokeswoman for Primary Children's.The Alouette will be permanently based at Primary Children's as soon as the hospital's second heliport is completed in January. Life-Flight bases its other helicopter at LDS Hospital. Both hospitals are owned by Intermountain Health Care. A third helicopter is leased by the U. Hospital's Air-Med program.
The leasing of the new helicopter comes hard on the heels of the controversial demise of the U.'s 2-year-old neonatal transport team and the creation of a new team at Primary Children's. Previously, the U. Hospital team transported critically ill infants to both the University Hospital and Primary Children's. However, Primary Children's announced it could save money by creating its own team.
Primary Children's might save money, but families and insurers of babies flown in Primary Children's helicopter won't. A comparison of prices charged by the U. for the newborn helicopter service and prices Primary Children's planned to charge shows the Primary Children's charges to be sharply higher.
For example, according to lists obtained by the Deseret News, the U. charges $934 for flying a baby by helicopter from Jordan Valley Hospital to Primary Children's. Primary Children's will charge $1,596 for the same service.
"We stand by those costs," Midget said. But she stressed that the overall cost of the transport system would be less than the U.'s because Primary Children's would use a helicopter much less than the U. did.
So why the new helicopter?
"With the pediatric transports and the neonatal transports, we felt we needed to have a helicopter based here," Midget said. "We are using a helicopter much less expensive than the one the U. uses."
Despite adding another helicopter to the air ambulance fleet, Primary Children's plans to transport only about 110 babies by helicopter in 1991, she said.
The U. transported 296 babies by helicopter for the fiscal year ending in June, Midget said. The one helicopter LifeFlight already has does over 600 transports a year, but that helicopter missed 110 calls last year because it was already out, she said. The new helicopter may pick up some of the calls missed by LifeFlight's adult transport helicopter. LifeFlight also leases four airplanes.
Will the new helicopter be underutilized? "I don't know," Midget said. "Officials don't seem to think so."
Primary Children's also hired all 12 nurses from the U.'s defunct neonatal team to staff its own team, she said. Midget offered to make future transport information available to the media to prove Primary Children's stood by its commitment to cut costs by cutting back on helicopter transports.