November 16, 2001 11:00 pm
RAPID RESPONSE: Air Life of Oregon crew loads a patient for a quick flight to help.  ().
RAPID RESPONSE: Air Life of Oregon crew loads a patient for a quick flight to help. ().

By The Observer

An air ambulance that serves Eastern Oregon will open a base at the Union County Airport Monday.

Air Life, a Bend company, has leased a hangar at the airport for an airplane that will provide emergency transportation from Northeast Oregon hospitals to larger hospitals in Portland and Boise.

Janet Wright, vice president for patient care at Grande Ronde Hospital, said that the La Grande base will be a community benefit.

How can we not be pleased? she said. This will enhance our ability to move patients faster to Boise or Portland. I would think the whole community would be very pleased.

Thirteen people, including four pilots, will be hired to staff the air base, and the pilots will be required to live in the La Grande area, said Vern Bartley, Air Life director.

In addition to a pilot, each medical flight carries a nurse and a respiratory therapist, who will fly from Bend to La Grande for each 24-hour rotation. While on duty, the crew members will live in an apartment in the airport hangar, Bartley said.

Air Life has a long-term lease on the hangar, which is owned by Brad Payne of La Grande, he said.

Union County will not charge

Air Life landing fees, said Dennis Spray, the countys general services director who oversees the airport.

This wont generate any revenue for the county, except for fuel sales, he said. Its a service the community needs.

From the base in Bend, the fixed-wing aircraft takes about two hours and 15 minutes to transport a patient from La Grande to Boise. With the new Union County Airport base, transport probably will take no more than an hour and a half, according to Air Life.

The new base has been driven by demand, Bartley said.

We receive enough flight requests from Northeast Oregon hospitals to warrant a dedicated base in this area, he said.

Air Life has been serving Grande Ronde Hospital on a per-call basis since 1995, Barbley said. But the company also provides air transport for hospitals in several other Northeast Oregon communities, including Pendleton, Hermiston, Baker City and Enterprise.

Gail Johnson, director of nursing at Wallowa Memorial Hospital in Enterprise, said, I think its a really excellent opportunity for enhanced services to Eastern Oregon.

In addition to adding personnel, Air Life will add an airplane by mid-January. Until the third plane is ready, the air ambulance will fly from La Grande only during the daylight hours but will continue to serve Northeast Oregon from Bend at night.