Helicopter crews act fast to save lives

CALSTAR staff provides emergency-room type care
By: Kim Palaferri, Colfax Record Correspondent
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Sometimes, life’s circumstances change at the blink of an eye. That is what happened Saturday to Tyler Hand of Grass Valley. While riding his motorcycle on a trail near Carpenter Flat – in the Tahoe National Forest north of Emigrant Gap – Hand hit a slick patch, causing the motocross bike’s tire to slide out from under it and steering him into a tree’s path. During the accident, which occurred at about 1:30 p.m., Hand broke the femur bone in a thigh and he was unable to ride his motorcycle out of the remote area. Hand needed medical attention quickly, and family and friends who were riding with him contacted 911, which dispatched the California Highway Patrol helicopter to rescue Hand. CHP Pilot Joe Hagerty, also an EMT, maneuvered over the area of the crash site and plucked Hand out of the wooded area, flying him to Whitcomb Avenue near Interstate 80 in Colfax where CALSTAR 3, a California Shock/Trauma Air Rescue helicopter based in Auburn, was waiting to transport the crash victim to Sutter Roseville Medical Center. “The rescue only took a few minutes, but since it was in such a remote location, it would have been too risky to transport the victim out by car, causing possible more damage to a broken leg,” Hagerty said. With the help of CHP co-pilot Jimmy Hendrix, also a paramedic, the pair secured Hand to the side rail of the helicopter for transport. Using the CHP helicopter in a rescue is free of charge to the patient, explained Hagerty. “If we have to do a rescue like we did with Hand, it is a free service, and fees for the helicopter are paid by motor vehicle registrations through the California DMV,” Hagerty said. The CHP helicopter is not equipped with life-saving equipment and in-flight emergency room care such as that in CALSTAR 3, making transfers to the air ambulance necessary. CALSTAR provides transportation to critically injured or ill patients to hospitals that have a trauma unit. A trip from Colfax to Sutter Roseville Medical Center in a CALSTAR air ambulance runs approximately $30,000, a costly bill if for those who don’t have insurance. CALSTAR, a nonprofit organization, offers an affordable annual membership program to anyone, whether insured or not. The company receives no federal or local government funding or support, leaving reimbursements, donations and memberships to cover their costs. There are approximately 50,000 members in the program, which is not an insurance policy and is secondary to an existing policy. Program members who have insurance don’t have to pay the cost of their deductible, while program members who don’t have a health insurance policy are waived the entire cost of the air medical transport. According to its website, since beginning flight operations in 1984, CALSTAR has transported more than 40,000 critically injured or ill patients to hospitals and trauma centers throughout California and Northern Nevada. Sonja Vargas, Administrative Assistant and Business Development at CALSTAR in Auburn, works hard to promote the membership program that also offers family or group discounts. The annual individual rate is $40 and the family rate is $45 per household annually. Vargas said that regardless of how many family members there are in an immediate family plan, they are all covered if they are on the contract. “Filling out the contract is quick, and we accept check or credit card, after that it takes two weeks to process,” she said. “Most insurance companies don’t cover the entire amount of an air transfer, but we do waive the deductible if a patient has the plan. Groups can also join at discounted rate. “We encourage employers to make this program available to their staff because of cut backs, and it’s an affordable benefit they can offer too,” Vargas said. “The minimum of a group rate is 15 people which brings the membership cost down to $35.” On board, the air ambulance carries two critical care registered nurses, including Kelly D’Agostini and Jordan Frazer, who assisted in Hand’s rescue on Saturday. CALSTAR 3 in Auburn has a total of eight rotating nurses. The helicopter averages about one completed transport per day. CALSTAR service operates eight base stations equipped with a helicopter and one airport station with a Cessna 421. In addition to Auburn, areas include South Lake Tahoe, Concord, Gilroy, Ukiah, Salinas, Santa Maria, Vacaville, and the McClellan airport in Sacramento. The company has association with nonprofit reciprocal partners that honor the CALSTAR membership program in case of an emergency needing air transfer in their location, including Chico, Reno, Idaho and Washington. Information on the condition of Hand, the patient – as well as whether he is a member of CALSTAR – was not available.