Hettinger County lands air ambulance service

Air ambulance services can cost patients thousands of dollars, some well into six figures. But thanks to a recent agreement, the citizens of Hettinger County no longer have to worry about those high costs associated with emergency services.

Valley Med Flight features two air ambulance vehicles. A helicoptor (pictured) and a fixed-wing aircraft. Hettinger County recently purchased the services of Valley Med Flight for the entire county. (Valley Air Med File Photo)
Valley Med Flight features two air ambulance vehicles. A helicoptor (pictured) and a fixed-wing aircraft. Hettinger County recently purchased the services of Valley Med Flight for the entire county. (Valley Air Med File Photo)

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

The Hettinger County Commission recently subscribed to a membership with Valley Med Flight, giving its residents a boost in their healthcare coverage.

Valley Med Flight is a critical care air ambulance service, and with the membership agreement, will serve all residents of Hettinger County.

The services officially started on Jan. 12, and the membership lasts one year, at which time County Commissioner John Plaggemeyer said they will re-evaluate the situation and decided if it’s something they would like to continue.

“By next November we should have a pretty good idea of how things are working,” Plaggemeyer said.

Initially approached by a similar service a few years ago, the county discussed the topic. But before they could finalize anything that company folded.

Plaggemeyer said that a few citizens’ personal stories recently revived the conversation.

“We had a couple individuals that had very expensive (medical) rides,” Plaggemeyer said. “So we talked about it again.”

Valley Med Flight approached the commissioners and gave them a proposal, to which the commission agreed.

A main selling point for the commission was the cost per citizen. An individual wanting to purchase the service for themselves and their family would have to pay a minimum of $50. With the county purchasing it, the cost was down to a little over $5 per resident, according to Plaggemeyer.

The service was paid for out of the county’s general fund, but residents will have the chance in June to vote on a measure to use sales tax to fund it in the future.

“We thought it was pretty cheap insurance for the people in the county,” Plaggemeyer said.

The service only applies to those with a county address. If a visitor to Hettinger County needs the service, they would not be under the blanket coverage of the county. However, if a county resident is in another service area of Valley Med Flight, that person would be covered.

The service offers two methods of transportation: a fixed wing craft and a helicopter.

The medical facility destination is decided by the person in charge on the ambulance crew at the site of the accident or medical emergency. Once an emergency call comes in, the ambulance service is dispatched to the scene. From there the ambulance crew notifies Valley Med Flight if an air ambulance is needed. The Valley Med Flight crew communicates with the ambulance crew on the ground and determines if they can land on site or if the patient has to be driven to the nearest, suitable landing area. The craft then transports the patient to the medical facility for further treatment.

Plaggemeyer said that he personally knows two stories of individuals who have had to a pay a lot of money for services, and he knows the coverage will help those patients that need the service going forward.

“It looks like pretty good coverage,” Plaggemeyer said. “I’m just hoping for the sake of all the people in the county that this thing works out real well.”

He said that starting soon residents will be able to gather information on the service through promotional materials that will be placed in locations around the county.

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