Lobbying for Life Flights: Access to Care by Air

by Travis H. Brown, Contract Lobbyist

This week, a Washington Post article about the risks that air medical emergency response teams face reminded me how often state & federal healthcare lobbyists forget the vital role that pilots with paramedics play.  The focus of that story had to do with the family lives lost to tragedy and inclement weather in duty – something that all private pilots know deserves more attention for the work that they do.


Maybe it’s just my love for general aviation that captures me to the beat of their rotors.   Maybe it’s my decade of experience lobbying for healthcare matters.  Every time that I see a BJC helicopter coming in or leaving out from Barnes-Jewish Hospital, I think about the times that I have known someone on that flight, or someone who needs it the most at that very moment.  Recently, it was my father-in-law being air-lifted to University Hospital, when an extensive crew did everything that they could to ease his pain.  Decades ago, I recall being near a fatal car accident in Perry County when it only took 15 minutes for an air evac ambulance to arrive from St. Louis, MO.  Even in rural mid-Missouri near Jefferson City or Columbia, I often see life flights to transport vital organs, blood supplies, and unique services across our river’s edge throughout the night.

I strongly recommend every child having a chance to see a helicopter team like this in a non-urgent situation.  In 1999, in Springfield, MO, I toured a hospital during the State Chamber of Commerce Leadership Missouri grassroots issue tours around each region.  Sometimes, healthcare facilities offer open houses where such tours are offered on site.  In order to understand how and why costs can be so high, it takes some first-hand knowledge of what this kind of operation crew requires to function.

As a border to many states, Missouri’s export of healthcare services is often extended by air in this fashion.  Many citizens may not take time to realize that access to care from top notch physicians – including anesthesiologists, cardiac surgeons, neuro surgeons, and trauma physicians – depends upon air lifts to urban core areas.

So, as we reconsider how our state laws, regulations, and practices related to adverse events might be improved in the next year’s legislative session, we should remind each other of the techniques like this that make our access to care uniquely-possible between our urgent care, surgery centers, & major hospital networks.  When we limit our reimbursements for how doctors can see patients, someone on the other end of that 911 call may not get the urgent help that they deserve.