Sunday, August 1, 2004
Pursuing Fed Coordination
EMS advocates have made some headway toward more inclusion of emergency medical services in federal emergency planning. But their efforts may stall unless operators and providers push elected officials to back federal funding reforms.
A coalition of 20 EMS associations and trade groups helped persuade the U.S. Senate's Government Affairs Committee to approve the Emergency Medical Services Support Act of 2004, which would establish a Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical Services to coordinate more than seven federal agencies involved in EMS. These include the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The supporting groups (which included the Air & Surface Transport Nurses Assn., the Assn. of Air Medical Services, the National EMS Pilot Assn., and the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians) argue that federal support for EMS in the last 20 years has been scarce and uncoordinated. They cited a 2001 U.S. General Accounting Office report's finding that federal agencies need to better coordinate their efforts to address the needs of state, regional and local EMS systems.
Under the act approved by the committee (designated Senate bill S. 2351), the committee would set up an advisory council of 13 non-federal representatives. That council would be charged with getting input and advice from individuals with daily operational experience providing EMS. Its objectives would include making recommendations to the interagency committee on topics including improved coordination and support of state, local, tribal and regional EMS and 9-1-1 systems among federal programs and "development of a national emergency medical services plan."
The full committee would include, among others, representatives of the heads of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Homeland Security Dept.'s Office for Domestic Preparedness, the Health and Human Services Dept.'s Health Resources and Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Fire Administration.
The bill passed unanimously by the Government Affairs committee was sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). It was placed before the full Senate on June 30, with 16 additional sponsors.
However, advocates warn that despite the additional support, the effort to win passage of the bill is not moving quickly. Without stronger advocacy from the EMS community, particularly the air ambulance sector, "the entire process may stall and we will lose yet another year or more of federal focus on the challenges of our work environment," Tom Judge of LifeFlight Maine said in a recent President's Message to members of the Assn. of Air Medical Services. "We need to continue to build a list of Senate co-sponsors. Just as we build coalitions, this is how legislation gets passed."
Look for Air-Evac Lifeteam to expand further now that it has been sold to a group led by Florida and Pennsylvania investors.
Ownership of the operation changed July 1. The outfit today operates 41 Bell 206Ls from 37 bases in nine southern and Midwestern U.S. states. The chairman of Air-Evac's board of directors, Bill Chritton, maintained the company was healthy and had "a very bright, exciting" prospects. But it had become clear in recent years, he said, that Air-Evac's rapid expansion could be extended to even more rural areas with additional capital. That is the reason the board decided, "to turn the reins over to a group of people who can support additional expansion to the fullest extent possible."
The new owners include the private equity firms Brockway Moran & Partners and Meridian Venture Partners.
Boca Raton, Florida-based Brockway Moran is an investor in middle market companies valued up to $200 million. The firm says its investors include Goldman Sachs, Wilshire Associates, GE Capital, SunTrust and Credit Suisse First Boston.
Radnor, Pa.-based Meridian Venture Partners invests $3-8 million each in later-stage companies as well as providing equity financing for acquisitions and recapitalizations. Its holdings include companies in aviation, publishing, specialty retailing, manufacturing, healthcare, and software. A major aviation holding is a stake in Keystone Helicopter Corp.
Air-Evac offers air ambulance services to small rural communities distant from hospitals through a membership program that charges those in the communities a yearly fee for its services. The company says it currently has 300,000 members.