Assessing medevac control

The Baltimore Sun

A House of Delegates study panel is moving closer to calling for continued state police control over Maryland's medevac fleet, according to a draft report obtained yesterday by The Baltimore Sun.

The draft report also endorses replacing the state's aging fleet with three new $20 million aircraft a year, starting next year.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch called the draft report "absolutely" premature yesterday and said it was an early step in a broad assessment of the state's emergency medical services system.

The EMS system, and in particular the police-operated helicopter program, have come under increased scrutiny since the fatal crash of a medevac helicopter in September.

Dozens of state troopers and their supporters rallied outside the State House yesterday in opposition to pending legislation that would change - and perhaps privatize - Maryland's emergency helicopter transport system, one of the first and most venerated in the country.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget for next year includes $40 million to replace two of the 12-helicopter fleet, which includes six aircraft that are about 20 years old.

The draft House report recommends spending an additional $20 million next year for a third replacement.

Mike Allen, an executive with a would-be medevac competitor in the private sector, has called the fleet-replacement initiative urged by police "the largest helicopter procurement by any public entity, other than the federal government, in United States history."

Allen's company, Colorado-based Air Methods Corp., bills itself as "the world's largest air ambulance operator" and is lobbying the General Assembly to consider a public-private partnership model in which private companies lease helicopters and pilots to the state - an approach Air Methods says would be more affordable and efficient.

In considering such a proposal, the draft legislative report concluded that medevac service to remote parts of the state could suffer because "coverage in rural areas may not be commercially profitable."

The report was produced by a four-delegate committee tasked with exploring procurement issues.

The 14-member "EMS Workgroup" is scheduled to meet again this morning.

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