First responders confront medical air desert

Oct. 1—Much of Northwest Missouri, authorities said, can no longer wholly depend on rapid response from a helicopter to the scene of a car crash or other sudden emergency.

Termed an air ambulance desert, this phenomena is caused by how the nearest dispatch point for a medical helicopter is Chillicothe Municipal Airport in Livingston County, Missouri. According to the Atchison-Holt Ambulance District, for its service area, that means 40 minutes to 1 hour of response time, under ideal conditions. Inclement weather, communication problems and aircraft availability limits all can lengthen the wait.

"Unfortunately, it's more than I'd like to encounter, but we average, it can be anywhere between one to four or five in one year; there was once a multitude of situations when we required an air ambulance," said Sheriff Kasey Keesaman of DeKalb County. "We're down to one local air ambulance service, and that significantly increases the time it would take if we had a multi-vehicle accident or something that would require a Life Flight response."

Last year, Air Methods Corporation of Greenwood Village, Colorado, which operates the LifeNet of the Heartland service, canceled flights out of Rosecrans Memorial Airport. In the wake of such reductions, Keesaman said, a choice at times must be made to take a patient with life-threatening injuries to a hospital via ground ambulance.

"As opposed to waiting, it's quicker to try to get somebody to the nearest trauma center," Keesaman said. "It would be quicker to drive, so that decision is made oftentimes, because we don't have time to wait for the helicopter."

Marcus Clem can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowClem