EL CENTRO — Don Wharton, Director of Business Strategy with REACH Air Medical Services, Inc. LLC (REACH) addressed the El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC) Hospital Board in an effort to open negotiations for the exclusive contract between REACH and ECRMC Tuesday at their board meeting.
Wharton received a letter September 1, 2017 from Adolphe Edward, CEO of ECRMC, terminating the exclusive agreement with REACH Air Medical Services.
The three-year agreement between the two companies expires January 2018. The letter states that ECRMC wishes to continue to work with REACH, but declines to have an exclusive relationship with any provider of air transport services. ECRMC also states that it may work with other partners in addition to REACH after January 2018.
Wharton explained how REACH is doing business in Imperial County.
“Since 2008, REACH has had an exclusive air transport service contract with ECRMC, as well as Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District,” said Wharton. “In addition to the base at Imperial County Airport, we have also established a second full-time base at the Brawley Municipal Airport, totaling close to $10 million in assets. We have hired and developed local professionals including flight nurses, flight paramedics, pilots, and maintenance technicians. We have a stellar record of service satisfaction.”
REACH has also played an active role in improving air utilization and the EMS system. REACH supports multiple non-profit organizations, charities, service clubs, and foundations throughout the Valley, according to Wharton.
“REACH has a membership base in the Imperial Valley that is over 30,000,” said Wharton. “This membership is only for REACH customers and cannot be transferred to another carrier.”
Part of the contract states that REACH will be called first for air transfers and if it is unable to make the transfer, another air transfer service will be contacted by REACH.
“We are the only provider in Southern California that will call the competitor because it is the right thing to do for the patient,” explained Wharton. “The other provider is Mercy Air, who does not have a base in the county. We have seven aircraft within 30 minutes or less of ECRMC. We have had few times that we have handed off a transfer of patient.”
“Whatever we do, we do what is right for the patient,” continued Wharton. “We ask that the board reaffirm and renew our long-standing successful partnership that has served our patients and citizens so well.”
Several business leaders also took to the podium in support of REACH, including Tom Henderson, Executive Director of the Imperial County Medical Society, Kay Day Pricola, Executive Director of Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, Dan DeVoy, Imperial Irrigation District human resource director, etc.
Ryan Kelley, Imperial County Supervisor, gave his support.
“I was also the EMS administrator for the county,” said Kelley. “During that tenure, we worked very hard to get an air transport service here in the Valley. Before that, we had long delays in air transport pickups. It is your decision to support and to maintain the available resources that are committed to this community.”
Board President Joe Picazo, Jr. had a prepared response.
“We value our partnership with REACH,” said Picazo. “We will continue to work closely with REACH on patient transfers. Any patient, who is a member of the REACH program, will continue to be able to request their services. It is important to us that the choice of services will be afforded to all patients of ECRMC. The termination of the exclusive contract allows us to step back and reevaluate what we have. Realistically, we probably don’t need the contract, because REACH is the service provider here in the Imperial Valley. We want to be able to provide options to our patients. We cannot act on this today, but we will reevaluate what we have in the contract.”
Adolphe Edward, CEO of ECRMC, pointed out that there is a relationship with UCSD Medical Center. UCSD uses Mercy Air as their primary air transfer provider.
Christian Tomaszewski, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for ECRMC, said, “Under this contract, I must call REACH first for patient transport. If they determine that another service should be called; only they can make that call. We have a conflict in terms of calling a secondary provider. I need to be able to call a service that can respond in a timely fashion. We will continue to call REACH first because they have units available here in the area. They give great care.”
“The concern is clearly this, the entry of another service to Imperial County that already has two resources,” said Wharton. “We have no problem with eliminating the exclusivity in the contract. Doctors are always empowered to select whatever method or mode of transport for their patients, we have no problem changing that part of the agreement.”
“What we do need is this; assurance,” said Wharton. “Assurance of our $10 million investment, assurance to our members, and assurance for our employees so we can maintain our service level with our two helicopters. If the contract expires, we will continue our services here in Imperial County as they are. We are taking your word that the relationship continues.”
An audience member asked if there was a Mercy Air Medical employee on staff at ECRMC.
“I was asked if UCSD had a financial interest in the termination of the contract with REACH,” said ECRMC Board Member Efrain Silva. “UCSD has no interest in this contract. We do have a medical director from Mercy Air Medical to provide some continuity in care and oversight.”
REACH was honored with the Association of Air medical Services (AAMS) 2016 and 2017 Program of the Year. REACH has existing, contractual partnerships with UCLA, UC Davis, Children’s Oakland, Sutter Health System, and UCSF Hospital, according to Wharton.
“REACH Air Medical has had an exclusive seven-year contract with the UCLA Health System,” said Wharton. “Specifically with their neo-natal and pediatric department. We handle all of their transports. It’s a uniquely branded UCLA helicopter. We have the same arrangement with UC Davis, although not with the branded helicopter. We also have the same arrangement with UCSF. I’m wondering what is the issue with UCSD?” Asked Wharton. “We are clearly the provider of choice in the state of California when it comes to UC’s.”