Opinion

Protect Access to Vital Air Medical Services in Health Care Emergency

These are unprecedented times. Not since 9/11 have we experienced such a broad threat to public health and safety. 

The threat that COVID-19 poses makes the roles of doctors, nurses, hospital staff and first responders in the delivery of health care even more critical. It also underscores the importance of access to our health care system — accessing medicines, medical facilities, medical professionals and tests. 

The U.S. health care community is doing all it can during this time of crisis, and the American public is relying on it to be there in time of need. This includes air medical providers who understand the very nature of emergent care and play a vital role in our ability to get patients the care they need quickly.

With many rural hospitals closing their doors, an aging population, and now the arrival of COVID-19, the need for air medical services is growing. According to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, 168 rural hospitals have closed since 2005, with six closing already this year. Today, hundreds more are on the brink of closure. 

The result is patients must travel further to get emergency care. Thankfully, air medical providers are there to fill the gap. 

As COVID-19 spreads from hot spots to more rural areas, first responders, including emergency air medical providers, are at the frontlines and are ready to care for those patients. Access to care, whether in rural or urban areas, is essential. 

These are intensive care unit-level patients who were deemed medically necessary for emergency air transportation by medical doctors or first responders. COVID-19 patients become critical when they experience respiratory failure and may require intubation; these are precisely the high-acuity patients for which air medical clinical teams are trained and needed most. 

Moreover, if the outbreak worsens, ICUs in some areas may become overwhelmed and need to transport patients to other hospitals — even if these are not COVID-19 patients. These are some of the sickest patients that emergency air medical services transport.  Strokes, heart attacks and scene accidents don’t stop because of this pandemic, which only heightens the need for dependable and available emergency air medical services.

Sometimes, it takes an emergency to make you realize how important these health care services are. COVID-19 is already stretching our system’s ability to respond, and we are going to need the help of every single provider to get us through this crisis. 

As you, your family and friends hunker down during this pandemic, please remember that first responders like air medical providers are doing all they can to keep you safe and healthy. Congress, in turn, must reject using the COVID-19 emergency legislation as a means to reduce access to these vital emergency services. 

 

Carter Johnson is the spokesperson for Save Our Air Medical Resources, a national campaign dedicated to preserving access to emergency air medical services for Americans across the country.

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