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Sanford to launch air service base in Dickinson

A day after Spirit Lifeline pulled out of Dickinson, another medical air service hopes to take its place.

Bismarck-based Sanford AirMed announced Thursday that it plans to establish a base in Dickinson by late fall, according to a press release. The oil boom city will be home to a Sanford King Air B200 fixed-wing aircraft, along with a team of flight paramedics, flight nurses pilots and mechanics.

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“One year ago, Sanford delivered on its merger promise by expanding Sanford AirMed services to Bismarck,” said Dr. Craig Lambrecht, president of Sanford Health Bismarck. “This is a continuation of Sanford’s commitment to serve people in our region by expanding air transport services in Dickinson and western North Dakota. It’s really a very positive move for the people of this region.”

Med-Trans, the parent company of Spirit Lifeline, announced Wednesday that it had stopped service to North Dakota a year after establishing a base in Dickinson. The national air transport service cited low utilization and low reimbursement levels from insurance companies.

“When Med-Trans announced they were leaving Dickinson, we knew it was important to find a way to serve this region,” said Dr. Brook Nelson, a general surgeon at Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic. “Air transportation is so vital in rural areas such as ours to deliver lifesaving care quickly when needed.”

The plane averages 300 mph and can travel up to 1,500 miles before being refueled, according to a press release. It also has the ability to carry two patients and two care attendants. A flight paramedic, flight nurse and pilot will be on duty 24/7, according to the release.

Sanford currently serves western and central North Dakota with a helicopter from Bismarck.

The medical service will work with Med-Trans employees to offer employment, according to the release.

With the growth of the oil industry comes an influx of people, which also means there is a growing need for health care. A medical air service is something that western North Dakota needs, especially with critical cases, Stark County Commissioner Jay Elkin said.

“We’ve seen an unprecedented growth here in western North Dakota just due to the fact that the oil industry has been so successful here,” Elkin said. “And so many of those accidents that happen, whether they be road-related or whether they be community-related, who knows? There are a lot of different scenarios that play out when it comes to what happens.

“So many of these locations are in desolate areas or remote areas and are difficult to access or help an individual in a critical need,” he added.

Elkin believes that if Spirit Lifeline had stayed, they would have been utilized.

“It’s something that has been desperately needed,” he said. “I guess my belief is that Spirit Lifeline would have been utilized if they’d have (stayed). More time was needed, I believe, in order for them to really get their feet off the ground.”

Spirit Lifeline previously offered to provide a service plan to the county. The plan would have covered the cost — pegged at $25,000 — for residents to be airlifted for emergencies.

Sanford AirMed extended a counteroffer, which the county is reviewing. A public forum will be held at 7 p.m.Thursday, July 31, at the Biesiot Activities Center. Representatives from the Stark County Commission, Dickinson City Commission, and area law enforcement and emergency staff are expected to be there.

Spirit Lifeline also sold memberships to residents in western North Dakota. Customers may choose to remain covered in other markets around the country or receive a refund.

CHI St. Joseph’s Health in Dickinson is in negotiations to bring a separate medical air service to Dickinson, hospital President Reed Reyman said. He could not name the company but said it would also consist of a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft.

“The more services for the people in the area, the better patient care that is offered,” Reyman said. “That’s what we are all about at CHI. That’s really OK. It’s just a great time to be in health care in southwest North Dakota.”

Sanford AirMed is different from Spirit Lifeline because Sanford AirMed is “a fully-integrated system,” said Fred Fridley, Sanford’s director of public affairs.

“We don’t outsource or contract, we own our aircrafts,” Fridley said. “We’re the local entity. We own these aircrafts. We staff these aircrafts.

“From our standpoint, we feel that that is a much better model to go by.”

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.   
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