Rescue helicopters are a savior of last resort, and those who need them — or their insurance companies — pay for the privilege: $16,000 to start the engine, with the tab rising after that.
The figures were buried in a staff report from a meeting last month at which the Board of Supervisors approved as 5-year contract with CALSTAR — California Shock Trauma Air Rescue.
Under the contract, CALSTAR will take charge of emergency air rescues in San Luis Obispo County until at least 2017. There is a provision allowing a 5-year extension beyond that.
But it was the “schedule of charges” that was eyebrow-raising.
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The chart begins with “Scene flight lift off – 1 patient - $16,165.” It lists many additional charges based on the number of people being transported, the number of medical personnel, and other matters.
Tad Henderson, chief operations officer for CALSTAR, agrees that the prices are high but says they are warranted.
“From our perspective, they are too high,” he said, but there is a “heavy cost of operating a $5 million helicopter,” its maintenance, and the medical and other personnel that go along with it.
Henderson said CALSTAR has 15 helicopters and two airplanes at 9 bases in Central and Northern California. It has an EC135 helicopter at Santa Maria airport that can haul two patients.
CALSTAR transports 25 to 30 patients in an average month, he said, typically from the Oceano Dunes or a freeway accident. They don’t go out to a call unless a first responder summons them.
As to the costs, Henderson said insurance companies generally pay them.
CALSTAR does have a membership plan to defray the cost of coverage.