MARATHON – Monroe County’s newly acquired Trauma Star helicopter, a 2002 Sikorsky S-76 C+, arrived in Marathon last week and now is being outfitted with medical equipment. Pilots also are being trained. The goal is to have the helicopter ready for air ambulance service by early October, pending FAA approval, Monroe County Fire Rescue Chief James Callahan said.
In June, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners voted to spend $2.5 million from its sale tax infrastructure fund to purchase the helicopter, which previously was flown by the Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Angel One air ambulance program.
The 2002 Sikorsky is similar to Trauma Star’s current helicopter. Both are able to transport two patients, but the newer model is equipped with more modern avionics, can fly faster and has better lift capabilities that are needed on high humidity days, especially for flying out of hospital helipads that are surrounded by buildings and mangroves.
The County will keep the 1981 Sikorsky – which is still operational but has become increasingly expensive to maintain – as a backup to be used when the 2002 Sikorsky is out of service for maintenance.
“This new bird is a great addition,” Callahan said. “Now, with a second helicopter, we will be able to provide life-saving service to the citizens and visitors of Monroe County 365 days a year.”
Monroe County residents pay no out-of-pocket costs to use Trauma Star. Since operations began in 2006, Trauma Star has flown more than 2,400 people from the Florida Keys to trauma centers and hospitals on the mainland. During the first eight months of this year, Trauma Star has transported 341 people, including 67 for trauma alerts, 12 with strokes and 13 with heart attacks.
Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said the County now is monitoring the situation with the privately owned LifeNet air ambulance service, which is based at the Lower Keys Medical Center. County residents have been charged thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for transport on LifeNet.
“If negotiations are not worked out by the Spring of 2017 for LifeNet to provide affordable service to our residents, the County might discuss the need to purchase another helicopter from the Arkansas Children’s Hospital,” Gastesi said. “We got a great deal on the first helicopter with them and they have another one that will be available for purchase in the Spring.”
Trauma Star, a joint operation of Monroe County Fire Rescue and the Sheriff’s Office, is a County service whose operations now almost pay for itself. The program transported a record number of 397 people last year. Revenues collected from insurance and out-of-county patients covered 96 percent of the cost. That left only $285,516 of the bill, or just $1.41 per $100,000 in taxable property, to be paid for by taxpayers.
REMINDER: Last year the County mailed to residents red and white Trauma Star First Option stickers to be placed on driver’s licenses or medical insurance cards.
If you are a resident and did not receive a sticker, you can call 305-289-6010 or pick them up at any fire station in the Keys, at Monroe County Fire Rescue Headquarters at 490 63rd Street Ocean in Marathon or at any of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office sub-stations.
For information about the fee-waiver program and requirements for residents, go to Monroe County’s website at www.monroecounty-fl.gov, click on the Resident tab, and then click on the Trauma Star link.