Patients who need to be moved from the Sterling Regional MedCenter to another facility will be transported by the quickest means possible, and sometimes by helicopter.
That was the message SRM CEO Ned Resch had during a roundtable on medical transfers Tuesday afternoon with state, county and city officials.
The head of the hospital said about 3.7% of ER patients are transferred from the ER to another facility due to the nature of their illness or injury. About half of them, or 1.8% of all emergency patients, are transferred by air and 1.9% by ground transport.
“Our goal is to get (the patient) the care they need as quickly as possible, by any means possible,” Resch said.
Resch met with the Logan County Board of Commissioners to clarify changes to how medical transfers are conducted after commissioners began receiving a number of calls asking why the county was no longer responsible for this service. . President Byron Pelton said the issue had gained more attention since a Sept. 22 article in the Journal-Advocate about Banner Health, owner of SRM and air ambulance service MedEvac, transferring one of its helicopters to Sterling.
As previously reported, the hospital had been providing intra-hospital ground transportation services since 2019 under an agreement with Logan County. Previously, transports were provided by Logan County Ambulance, which is operated by the Sterling Fire Department under an intergovernmental agreement between Logan County and the City of Sterling.
After arriving at SRM, patients who require a specialized level of care or service not provided at Sterling are transferred to the Front Range or Denver. Resch said the first option is to call a team of ambulances from surrounding communities to respond, as long as they are available and transport speed is not a top priority.
If no ground crew is available or the patient’s medical condition requires faster intervention and transport, the hospital will request MedEvac transport. Resch pointed out that in some cases, the best and first option is to call the helicopter due to the higher level of medical care the crew can provide and the reduced time it takes to transport the patient.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Pelton said Logan County residents believed it was still the county’s responsibility to provide ambulance service when, in fact, the county had not been involved for three year.
Resch said he understands people fear being hit with a huge bill to cover the cost of air ambulance service, but Colorado law prevents that from happening. Under CRS § 10-16-705(3), also known as the No Surprises Act, insurance companies can only charge what the patient would pay with a network provider. Nor can the hospital or health care provider send a “balance bill” – the difference between what they billed and what the insurance company was willing to pay.
“In some cases, people may feel like it’s overkill (to use air travel), but it’s not,” Resch said. “Patients need care, and we need to get that care to them as quickly as possible, by any means possible.
Sterling Fire Chief Lavon Ritter said his department still works with SRM in some cases, particularly when patients need to be transferred from the hospital to a local nursing home or other facility. And, Ritter said, his service will never leave patients with no options.
Other attendees at the meeting were Sterling City Manager Kevin Blankenship, County Attorney Alan Samber and State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg.