MARTIN COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT/WSAZ) - In a county where there are no hospitals, and where grand transport to bigger cities can take more than an hour, there is now a new way to get where you need to be in case of emergency.
This week, Air-Evac Lifeteam opened a new base in Inez to provide quicker care to patients in crucial moments.
"You never know what can happen," Phillip Kirk, who signed up for a membership with Air-Evac, said. "I've had two brothers-in-law that had serious accidents, and it cost over $20,000."
Kirk is recovering from knee surgery and said he thinks the $65 yearly membership fee per household - regardless of household size - is a good deal in case anything happens.
Directors of the new Air-Evac base say they will fly anyone, regardless of whether someone is a member or not. However, they say if someone is a member, Air-Evac picks up the bill for what a person's insurance won't cover.
"If you're not a member, we're still going to gladly fly you anywhere that you need to go, with no questions asked," David Yager, a helicopter pilot for Air-Evac, said. "We don't get out at a scene or a hospital and ask you anything about your insurance. It's not our goal or our priority."
Bill Baker, the site director, said the service cuts the transport time in half. He estimated that the helicopter transport takes about 25 minutes to get to Huntington's Level 2 trauma centers - Cabell-Huntington Hospital and St. Mary's Medical Center - or to Charleston, and about 55 minutes to get to Lexington. He noted that transport time to the new Pikeville Medical Center would be about nine minutes.
"When we save time, we put more time on the patient's side," Baker said.
Yager said there are more than 100 other bases like this one with Air-Evac and three other companies with which they partner. A membership with Air-Evac covers those bases, with no cap on number of transports.
"If you're an accident-prone person and you end up being flown four, five times a year, there's no cap on the membership," Yager said.
Johnathan Williams, who is the deputy director at Net Care Ambulance in Martin County, said this helps his crews by offering a quicker option for the crucial moments after someone is injured. However, he said there are still times when ground transport is preferable. "If there's no dire, life-threatening emergency at the time, we will still take them to our outlying facilities here," Williams said.
If weather conditions are bad, Baker said they resort to a "fixed-wing" system or to conventional ground transport. "We will fly into the Big Sandy airport, have the local ambulance service transport us and the patient to the fixed-wing," Baker said. "Basically, instead of a medical helicopter, it's a medical airplane. So we have a fixed-wing service and rotor-wing service."
Baker said he hopes this service will help them save lives during what emergency crews call the "Golden Hour," when patients' conditions are often most vulnerable.