Spokane Journal of Business

Air ambulance launches service in Coeur d’Alene

Life Flight to employ 14 people at Boyington Field

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Aurora, Ore.-based Life Flight Network plans to base a helicopter ambulance service in Coeur d’Alene beginning later this month.

Life Flight, which claims to be the largest nonprofit medical flight program in the U.S., provides critical care transportation for seriously ill or injured patients throughout the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West.

The Coeur d’Alene operations, which are scheduled to begin June 23, will be based at Pappy Boyington Field, at the Coeur d’Alene Airport.

Life Flight also has air-ambulance bases in Sandpoint and Lewiston, says Dominick Pomponio, Life Flight’s regional director.

The Coeur d’Alene operations will have 14 employees, including flight nurses and paramedics, pilots, and mechanics, with an annual payroll exceeding $1 million.

Life Flight will base a new AgustaWestland Koala helicopter in Coeur d’Alene. The company also is considering placing a fixed-wing aircraft in Coeur d’Alene later this year, Pomponio says.

The helicopter will have a dispatch range of about 150 miles and will transport most patients to hospitals throughout North Idaho and the Spokane area.

He projects that the service will have five to seven flights a week.

Pomponio says the aircraft will have the ability to transport a critical care team, along with comprehensive life-saving medications and medical equipment. Life Flight also will have capabilities to transport blood to be administered to critically injured patients in the field, he says.

The Coeur d’Alene base aligns with the goal of the Idaho Legislature’s recently approved plan to develop a statewide, time-sensitive emergency system of care, Pomponio says.

Christopher Way, chief of the Kootenai County EMS system, says the Coeur d’Alene base is supported by a number of emergency medical services systems and health care professionals. 

Life Flight’s entry into the Inland Northwest market will mark the first time since 1994 that two competing air-ambulance concerns provided services in the region. The existing Inland Northwest air ambulance service, Spokane-based Northwest MedStar, was founded here when two Spokane-based operations, Heartflite and Lifebird, merged.

Pomponio says there’s enough demand to justify basing an air ambulance service in Coeur d’Alene.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in putting a helicopter in Coeur d’Alene,” he says. “We believe there’s a need in the area, and we chose to go forward with it.”

Eveline Bisson, MedStar program director, says Heartflite and Lifebird, which had been operated by competing Spokane-based hospital systems, combined 20 years ago under a separate nonprofit entity, Inland Northwest Health Services, to ensure efficient use of resources and reduce costs.

“We’re going to stay focused on that. That’s why we formed and how we operate,” Bisson says. “We have been servicing the area for decades, and we work closely with hospitals and EMS services. The announcement of another service doesn’t change that.”

MedStar has 150 employees and transports an average of 3,500 patients a year. 

Those numbers likely will increase, as MedStar recently established services in Missoula, Mont., and Brewster, Wash., says Nicole Stewart, an INHS spokeswoman.

MedStar is based at Felts Field in east Spokane. It also operates satellite facilities in Richland, Moses Lake, and at the Moscow-Pullman Regional Airport.

Bisson says MedStar also offers fixed-wing and ground transportation, and specialty services that extend its coverage region into areas served by other helicopter ambulance organizations that don’t provide those services.

The air ambulance service bought two twin-engine EC-135 helicopters last year for a total of $9 million.

Life Flight has provided critical-care medical services for 36 years.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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