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Beyond Transport, Chopper May Help Integrate Care

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, December 7, 2011

For several months, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and more than a dozen other Wyoming hospitals, have been working to create the Wyoming Integrated Care Network. The network aims to better coordinate patient care within the state.

But in a place as vast and sparsely populated as Wyoming, which has the second-lowest population density in the country with just 5.8 people per square mile, there's a major barrier to coordinating care between rural hospitals and larger facilities: a lack of medical helicopters.

"In talking to hospital CEOs, at the top of their list was always air transport," John Lucas, MD, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center's CEO, tells HealthLeaders.

Dana Barnett, director of outreach at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, and a former CEO of several small, rural hospitals himself, agrees.

"As I went around to hospitals, often I would hear, 'Well, when are you going to get a helicopter?'" he tells HealthLeaders, adding that Cheyenne Regional's service area is 20,000 square miles. "There was a feeling in the region, that there were not enough resources available."

In fact, Wyoming Medical Center's Wyoming Life Flight is one of only two emergency air transport services in Wyoming, which is hard to fathom, considering the state's more than 97,000 square miles of Rocky Mountain-swathed terrain. In many cases, hospitals that need service have to find it outside the state.

"We're a secondary priority to them. They're going to take care of their own service areas first," Lucas says. "If we're lucky, we get what's left over. We don't think that's good enough for people here in Wyoming."

But that will change in early 2012 when Cheyenne Regional Medical Center gets its own air ambulance service that will be based at the Cheyenne Airport through a new partnership with AirLife Denver. The air ambulance will not only shave critical minutes off of patient transport; it will also help to truly integrate care in Wyoming.

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