"Angel in the Sky": San Antonio AirLife!
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
February 2, 2006

OK, I must confess that I was an ardent fan of the TV show called "Whirlybirds" that ran from 1957 to 1959. I also played on my swing set under the flight pattern of Brooks Air Force Base. So I am enamored with flight!

Little did I know that I would serve on Commissioner's Court and have a small role in supporting Bexar County's and the Baptist System's very own "Angel in the Sky": the University Health System's San Antonio AirLife. That's why I take special pride in the action recently taken relative to the San Antonio AirLife. On January 6 of this year, a couple of signatures on some papers means that if you are ever critically injured or ill, the speed and skill your life may depend on will be readily available well into the future. The action taken was the signing of purchase contracts with Bell Helicopter to for three new Bell 430 medically-configured helicopters to replace the current fleet of Bell 412s.

With a top air speed of 143 miles per hour, the 430 is 16% faster and 21% more fuel efficient than the 412. In addition to the fuel savings, the per flight hour operating cost for the 430s will be approximately 75% less than the current cost of flying the 412s!

The decision to replace the fleet comes after careful evaluation and an in-depth comparison of 9 new aircraft that are all capable of serving the AirLife mission. More than 29,750 patients have been served well by the 412s over the past 15 years. They are well-maintained and can continue to be flown safely for many years to come, but they are no longer the most efficient aircraft available to transport critically ill and injured patients.

University Health System is purchasing 2 of the 3 new aircraft in support of its mission as the lead Level 1 Trauma Center for South/Central Texas, and for the benefit of the more than 2 million people who reside in the 22 counties that comprise Trauma Region P. "This investment will save lives. Trauma is the leading cause of death in all persons between the ages of 1 and 44, and the faster we can get critically injured patients to the trauma center, the better their chances for survival and recovery," said University Health System President/CEO George B. Hernández, Jr. "This contract is also a positive step for Bexar County taxpayers who own University Health System and who will benefit from the lower operating expense for AirLife."

The Baptist Health System will purchase the third new Bell 430. "We owe it to our patients, and we owe it to the crews of talented and dedicated men and women who fly AirLife, to provide the best equipment available today," said Baptist Health System President and CEO Trip Pilgrim. "This continued partnership between Baptist Health System and University Health System makes that a reality. We are pleased to be a part of this life-saving organization." The total cost for the three helicopters is approximately $18 million.

On behalf of the tens of thousands of patients whose lives will be saved over the coming years, Dr. Wayne Hilliard, President and CEO of San Antonio AirLife, commended the partners on this significant investment. "The commitment of these two organizations – this unique public/private partnership – and the ongoing support of this community are what make AirLife one of the safest and fastest growing programs in the nation," said Hilliard.

A Little History of AirLife

(Taken from "White Paper on Air Ambulance and San Antonio AirLife November 16, 2005")

The history and justification of air ambulance services has tracked that of regional trauma systems. Images of military helicopters evacuating wounded Vietnam soldiers in the 1970's gave rise to civilian air ambulances.

A trauma system is an organized, coordinated effort in a defined geographic area that delivers the full range of care to all injured patients. Since the late 1970's emergency medical service planners have worked to develop trauma systems of care. The military experience in the Vietnam War led to the passage of the Emergency Medical Services Act of 1973 and the definition of guidelines by the American College of Emergency Physicians for establishment of regional trauma care systems and the transfer of patients. Although the precise criteria for a level I trauma center varies by state, most are based on guidelines published by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. Early studies evaluating regional trauma systems (1975-1987) demonstrated that the reduction of time between the injury and definitive care, as well as treatment in a properly staffed and equipped trauma center, were important determinants in reducing trauma-related mortality. In February 1994, BMHS announced its intention to join with University Health System to form Texas AirLife, Inc., d/b/a San Antonio AirLife.

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