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Medical center makes use of helicopter transportation

Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05


Karina Rodriguez / The Prospector

Sierra Medical Center’s helicopter takes flight.


Karina Rodriguez / The Prospector

Air Method Michael Cassady must infrom the base of all the details before a flight.

   An air medical transport program has been implemented by the Tenet Healthcare Corp., the company that owns the Sierra Providence Health Network in El Paso. The program took off in June of 2011 as a means to service the region of El Paso. This explains the frequent helicopter landings at Sierra Providence Memorial Hospital, near campus.

Tenet—the nation’s third largest hospital chain according to Fortune 500—and Native Air, an Air Methods company, teamed up together to provide the service to El Paso and at the same time have a helicopter that the Sierra Providence Health Network could utilize.

The crew at Native Air operates around the clock and consists of a pilot, registered nurse and paramedic. They respond to various emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes and car accidents. They also transport kids and babies out of the rural hospitals in southern New Mexico and West Texas.

“The whole goal is get them to definitive care as quickly as possible. We are the only helicopter program in El Paso,” said Marvin McLellan, associate administrator of business development and project manager. “It’s a crew air medical program where people are staffed here (Sierra Providence Medical Center). We have pilots and mechanics and all the resources so when somebody calls us, we’re there in minutes.”
The Native Air crew usually responds to calls within seven minutes or less and work as a resource to every hospital in the region. If there is a trauma patient, he/she goes to the University Medical Center. Patients are passed through the helicopter to the closest appropriate hospital.

Paula Espinoza, senior microbiology major, is happy to see a service like Native Air available to the community for medical purposes.

“I do believe El Paso is growing, but even then if it’s a small town I still believe that we should have the opportunity to take advantage of the air medical transport service,” Espinoza said. “Not only for a private hospital but also the state of Texas should benefit public hospitals with this kind of service. The reason behind it all is because there are patients who need to be treated immediately.”
Moving from helipad to helipad helps the crew at Native Air eliminate the 20 to 30 minutes it takes to load up an ambulance from the airport and drive all the way to the hospital. “We can take flights from the middle of the highway back to the trauma center like UMC or we can take flights from Deming, NM hospital, land at their helipad, and then fly back immediately to whatever helipad or maybe here, Providence, or Sierra (Providence) East (Medical Center), Del Sol (Medical Center), whatever it may be,” said John Jones, medical base supervisor/Native 36.

Native Air uses a BK-117 helicopter for transportation with a radius of 150 miles. Native Air services places in southern New Mexico like Deming, Las Cruces, Silver City and Alamogordo. It also services areas further into West Texas like Van Horn.

Costs are high when it comes to sustaining a program like this. It is critical to the program that emergency medical services in the area remember they have a new tool they can utilize.

“There’s a multi-million dollar investment from the SPHN perspective to have these services available and standing by,” McLellan said.

Costs can range between $8,000 to $10,000 for insurance companies, which typically pay for the services.

“The services are paid just like any other service, like if you go for a CAT scan, if you go for an MRI, surgery,” McLellan said. “It’s paid by Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance.”

Kristopher Rivera may be reached at


Sierra Medical Center / Native Air from Abel Casares on Vimeo.

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