Tuesday, June 7, 2016

As government debt mounts, Aeromed ceases operations again

Aeromed, the only air ambulance company active in Puerto Rico announced it ceased operations effective last Friday, June 3, 2016 at 1:00pm. The company could no longer continue operations without a commitment from the government of Puerto Rico to pay the existing debt and offer acceptable fees that could guarantee long-term service.

Since November 2013, Aeromed has unsuccessfully tried to resolve this situation with the government. Last week the government rejected an offer made on May 23, 2016 to settle an existing debt for $4.4 million, which is a significant discount of the total amount owed, and negotiate fees that would allow a sustainable operation of air medical transport services for the people of Puerto Rico.  

“We acknowledge the government’s fiscal situation; we have been sensitive and flexible for several years in recognition of our relationship as partners, but there is no way we can continue to offer our services with inconsistent payments and fees that are unsustainable. We cannot continue to operate at a loss, but even so, we continue to exhaust all resources for dialogue. The fees the government has been willing to pay have been obsolete for over ten years,” stated Aeromed’s Program Director, José A. Hernández II.

Since November 2013, Aeromed has made numerous efforts and initiatives to resolve these matters with the government, but after three years of this situation, there remains no alternative but to give the government final notice. Aeromed sent government authorities a notification on May 5, 2016 announcing that it would cease operations on May 31, 2016. However, as a result of communications with government officials, the air ambulance operations were extended until last Friday, June 3, in hopes of reaching an agreement.

“We could not reach an agreement and, much to our regret, had to make the decision to cease operations. We are still hopeful that the dialogue with the government continues, with reasonable offers that can guarantee long-term service,” added Hernández.  

Suspension of services put at risk receiving federal funds from the Government Health Program since the contract for federal funding through Medicaid between the Puerto Rico government and the federal government, known as the State Medicaid Plan, requires that Puerto Rico operate an air ambulance system.  Medicaid funds subsidize over 50% of the Government Health Plan Budget.

Statistics from the Trauma Hospital establish that without air ambulance service on the island, the mortality rate would increase substantially since patients with traumatic injuries who need immediate medical attention will not be able to arrive quickly at the Trauma Hospital of the Puerto Rico Medical Center or other medical facilities capable of providing definitive medical care.  The lack of air ambulance service will also jeopardize the Medical Center’s Trauma Hospital accreditation from its current category to a Level 1 facility.  Suspension of service also affects the citizens of Vieques, Culebra, and the US Virgin Islands, who also use Aeromed’s service for transportation to the Medical Center Trauma Hospital, the only facility of its kind in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

“This decision is a heavy burden on us because for the past 22 years our mission has been to save lives; but this is also a complex commercial operation and requires income to continue operating. Our corporation has subsidized the air ambulance transport system for Puerto Rico since 2013. At this time, without an acceptable fee and a formal payment plan for the existing debt, it is impossible for us to continue to provide this vital service”, added Hernández II.

Aeromed is part of the fourth largest medical air transport provider in the United States and the Caribbean, and all these resources have been available for the people of Puerto Rico since April of 2013. It should be noted that the Company offers training to federal, state, and municipal agencies, at no charge, in areas such as patient preparation and ground coordination for landing zones during emergencies at a cost of thousands of dollars to the Company.  

Aeromed has invested substantially in improvements to the air base at the Medical Center with new installations, technologies, equipment, and aircraft.  In addition, Aeromed personnel have the best training available in the industry and comply with all national and federal standards and accreditations.

“While medical specialists are scarce in our country, the resources and medical services for critical care that we take to the scene of accident, where the need arises, are essential to saving the lives of our people”, sustained Hernández.  

“Puerto Rico is in grave danger if this situation is not addressed with the urgency it merits and that affects us all, because no one is exempt from having an accident or immune to suffering an illness,” concluded Hernández.


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