Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald



Residents with memberships for medical air service provided by AirLink Critical Care Transport are being advised by Baker City officials to request refunds from the company because it won't cover the cost for Eastern Oregon trips after May 31.

Baker City had been offering medical ground transport memberships in a partnership with AirLink. Membership sharply reduces the cost for transportation deemed medically necessary without additional deductibles or co-payments.

AirLink, which was owned by St. Charles Health System in Bend, was acquired by Metro Aviation, Inc. and Med-Trans Corporation. Its new owners plan to begin operating the emergency air ambulance service on or before June 15.

Its name is expected to remain the same, but it will be a for-profit operation under its new owners. And reducing its regional coverage area, including Eastern Oregon, comes with its move away from operating as a non-profit, according to the company.

The modification was expected to occur long before the change in ownership, however. AirLink initially intended to tighten its coverage area to exclude Eastern Oregon late last year.

AirLink had been managing the air-ground transport membership program for the city. While the city offers membership prices for ground transport service by ambulance as part of the program, the city has no control over the air transport operations and doesn't handle the money, said City Manager Mike Kee.

Life Flight Network was chosen by Baker City to replace AirLink as its transportation coverage partner because it already served La Grande and Wallowa County, he said.

Some of the combination packages with Air Link were for two-year memberships so some residents could expect fairly substantial returns, Kee said.

"We have been flooded with calls," said Stacey Durden, AirLink's membership program coordinator.

Durden emphasized that customers who travel out-of-state might want to consider staying with AirLink because their new network has more than 160 air transport providers offering reciprocal service in 25 states excluding the northwest, she said.

Mail the refund requests to this address - Attention: Audra, 2500 NE Neff Road, Bend, OR 97701. Email to airlink@stcharleshealthcare.org or telephone 800-353-0497 for a refund or to ask questions.

If possible, include the membership number. It can be found on company statements.

Requesting refunds from Air Link and joining with Life Flight before May 31 would ensure no coverage gap if air service is used after that date, Kee and Durden said.

That company's ground-air package costs $110 a year. It provides air transport for trips deemed medically necessary that are provided by them or 10 other reciprocal transport companies throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Life Flight has a base in La Grande.

The city's ground ambulance service costs $50 a year. Both ground and air accept insurance settlement as payment in full and don't require deductibles, co-payments or other additional payments.

The ground membership is called Fire Med Basic and the ground and air package is Fire Med Plus.

Contact Life Flight at 1-800-982-9299 to inquire about air or ground service memberships.

-Story revised 11:45 a.m., May 11, 2012