Airlink to change ownership

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer May 23, 2012 03:23 pm

New AirLink has reciprocity agreement with different network of providers; local citizens with memberships could be impacted

A change in ownership at Bend-based AirLink Critical Care Transport could have consequences for local people who bought into the service’s air transport membership program.

AirLink formerly operated a fixed-wing base in La Grande and sold memberships that insured people against the costs of medical air transport.  

On May 31, AirLink, owned by St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, will be taken over by Texas-based Med-Trans Corporation and Metro Aviation out of Louisiana.  

Up to now, people in Northeast Oregon could count on their AirLink memberships to pay for transport by Life Flight Network — the medical flight service  that took over in Union, Baker and Wallowa counties after AirLink departed last year — and other non-profit members of the Association of Air Medical Programs.

But the new AirLink is owned by a for-profit company that has its reciprocity agreement with a different network of providers, one that doesn’t offer services in the Pacific Northwest.

After May 31, a local AirLink member involved in a highway crash in, say, Idaho Falls, Idaho, or Bellingham, Wash., would have to pay medical air transport costs out-of-pocket if flown by a service other than AirLink.

Stacey Durden, AirLink’s membership program coordinator, said AirLink’s owners can’t honor memberships in the programs of the Association of Air Medical Programs providers because of federal rules having to do with co-pays covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

“While Med-Trans appreciates operating under a team-oriented approach to provide the highest levels of patient care and service to the regions its serves, it is strongly committed to complying with all applicable health care regulatory guidelines, as well as all rules and regulations in participation in both Medicare and state Medicaid programs and, therefore, cannot honor other unaffiliated provider memberships,” Durden said.

Durden said that for people traveling in central, southern, southeast and eastern Oregon, an Airlink membership will provide extended benefits.

Still, people from La Grande and northeast Oregon may do well to look at other options.

“A membership purchased from Life Flight will ensure coverage in La Grande and Northeast Oregon, and will also provide them with reciprocity with seven reciprocating air programs,” she said.

Durden said that a good reason for people to retain their AirLink memberships is the fact that AirLink belongs to the AirMedCare Network, said to be largest of its kind in the United States.

“An AirMedCare membership automatically enrolls you in all participating provider programs, giving coverage in more than 174 locations in 26 states,” she said.

Durden said AirLink members wanting to cancel memberships may request a  refund over the phone, by e-mail or in writing no later than May 31. She said people who bought lifetime memberships will automatically receive a refund.

Refund requests should be mailed to 2500 NE Neff Road, Bend, OR, 97701. The e-mail address is This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it The phone number is 800-353-0497.

Life Flight Network and the La Grande Fire Department are holding a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the La Grande Fire Hall to explain the possible effects of the change of ownership and present options.

“It’s a meeting to inform people that this is taking place. We felt like we had to get the word out,” said Fire Chief Bruce Weimer.

Weimer said the AirLink changes will have no impact on FireMed, the membership program that pays costs for ground ambulance services. The reciprocating partners in that program remain the same.