COUNTY COMMISSION APPROVES PURCHASE OF THIRD HELICOPTER FOR LIFE-SAVING TRAUMA STAR AIR AMBULANCE PROGRAM
The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners approved purchasing a third Sikorsky helicopter for its life-saving, Trauma Star air ambulance program with funding from the infrastructure sales tax fund.
The County began looking into a third helicopter for the Trauma Star program following complaints that County residents were being left with bills of tens of thousands of dollars for transportation on LifeNet, the private air ambulance company operating out of the Lower Keys Medical Center. County residents’ insurance companies are billed for transportation on Trauma Star, but County residents do not pay any out-of-pocket expenses.
The County requested that LifeNet also not charge County residents any out-of-pocket expenses. LifeNet proposed doing so, but only with a $400,000 per year subsidy from the County.
The County determined that over time it was more cost effective for taxpayers if the County purchased a third helicopter. In 2016, the program broke even in operations despite flying a record 528 patients, which is 131 more that the number of people flown in the previous record year of 2015.
“Absolutely, it is our guiding principal that all residents of Monroe County should be treated equally,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. “It was not fair that if you needed to be airlifted in the Lower Keys, it was a crapshoot who would pick you up. If it wasn’t Trauma Star, you could be looking at a bill of $40,000 or more.”
Monroe County Fire Rescue and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office partnered in 2001 to start the publicly-supported Trauma Star program in 2001 – at a time when no private company wanted to provide the service in the Florida Keys.
Since then, more than 3,000 residents and visitor have been flown to trauma and specialty care hospitals in Miami. (The program’s first Sikorsky helicopters began flying in 2006).
Last March, the County purchased a 2002 Sikorsky helicopter to replace the aging 1981 Sikorsky helicopter –which has been kept as a backup when the other helicopter is not in operation for maintenance.
Two years ago County residents were mailed red and white Trauma Star First Option stickers to be placed on their driver’s license 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.