Cal-Ore Life Flight will open an air ambulance base at the Brookings Airport in December, with a helicopter to provide high-speed transportation for patients who need emergency medical treatment.

With an air base here, patients can be flown to facilities that offer higher levels of care, rather than being driven by ambulance to an emergency room in Crescent City or Gold Beach, and then flown out for definitive care.

The base will feature a medically-equipped Bell 407 helicopter provided by Cal-Ore’s sister company, REACH Air Medical Services. That aircraft will augment Cal-Ore’s fleet of airplanes and ground ambulances which take patients to and from regional hospitals and respond to 911 emergency calls.

“When minutes matter, having a helicopter air ambulance available in the area is a great benefit to the community — it saves lives,” said Dan Brattain, vice president of Cal-Ore/REACH.

Cal-Ore members will be eligible for the services, as well.

The helicopter, which has an average cruising speed of 145 miles and a range of more than 370 miles, is regulated by the FAA to fly in specific weather conditions. Its four rotors make for a smooth, comfortable ride for patients, and night-vision goggles help pilots see where they’re going and where they can land.

The base will be staffed with a critical-care flight crew comprised of experienced pilots with thousands of flight hours, and a team of clinicians who provide intensive care.

Local comment

City Manager Gary Milliman, who is working closely with county officials to craft a sale agreement of the airport to the city, is excited about Cal-Ore’s decision to anchor its air base here.

Brattain said the airport was selected due to its central proximity to the area’s transport needs and the fact that it is at about 500 feet elevation, which is often conducive to better weather for departures.

“I think it’s terrific on several levels,” Milliman said. “We’re very pleased to have the air ambulance based here; it’ll enhance access to medical services for the community — a major enhancement. We’re happy to see them at the Brookings airport instead of flying out of Crescent City or Gold Beach. And we’re happy to see Cal-Ore Life Flight is making major investments in our community.”

The base also plays into the city’s economic development plans at the airport, he said. Cal-Ore helped pay to extend pipes into the airport area for an array of needs, and plans to expand water service to other parts of the facility.

“Further, it’s part of the overall plan, which includes the emergency department at the Brookings clinic,” Milliman said. “We can utilize the airport for our link to trauma centers rather than transporting people who need a higher level of care by ground ambulance to Crescent City or Gold Beach and then having them make the flight (to definitive care).”

The only missing link is the emergency department. The facility is ready to go, but Curry Health Network still lacks the cash flow to open it.

The Curry County Board of Commissioners is debating whether to ask voters if the county can loan money from its road reserve funds to such entities as the health network. In theory, the county could realize a slightly better return on the loan while the health network gets a lower interest rate on the loan than it can in the private market.

Milliman said he’s excited, too, about work he and city staff have done with the county to transfer sponsorship of the airport to the city. The cost has yet to be determined, but is limited by the Federal Aviation Administration to the average amount of money the county has spent on the facility in the past six years.

“We’re enthusiastic about that prospect finally (coming to fruition),” Milliman said.

Curry Health District board president and spokesman Ryan Ringer didn’t know about the new air base as he has been on vacation.

The base expands the collaboration with REACH, which recently moved to Roseburg, and will allow the company to provide a backup resource for Cal-Ore’s air ambulance services in North Bend, Crescent City and the Eureka/Arcata area. Cal-Ore also operates two ground ambulance bases in Brookings and Gold Beach.

Cal-Ore/REACH are providers for AirMedCare Network (AMCN), the nation’s largest air medical transport membership program. When transported by Cal-Ore/REACH, AMCN members pay no out-of-pocket costs for medically necessary flights or ground transports.