Air Ambulance Provider Ceases Operations
SAN JUAN – Aeromed, the only air ambulance company active in Puerto Rico, announced Tuesday that it ceased operations effective June 3. The company said it could no longer continue operations without a commitment from the government of Puerto Rico to pay the existing debt and offer acceptable fees that could guarantee long-term service.
According to Aeromed, since November 2013 it has unsuccessfully tried to resolve this situation with the government.
“Last week the government rejected an offer made on May 23, 2016 to settle an existing debt for $4.4 million, which is a significant discount of the total amount owed, and negotiate fees that would allow a sustainable operation of air medical transport services for the people of Puerto Rico.
“We acknowledge the government’s fiscal situation; we have been sensitive and flexible for several years in recognition of our relationship as partners, but there is no way we can continue to offer our services with inconsistent payments and fees that are unsustainable. We cannot continue to operate at a loss, but even so, we continue to exhaust all resources for dialogue. The fees the government has been willing to pay have been obsolete for over ten years,” Aeromed’s program director, José A. Hernández II, stated in the written announcement.
Aeromed sent government authorities a notification on May 5 announcing it would cease operations on May 31. As a result of communications with government officials, the air ambulance operations were extended until June 3 in hopes of reaching an agreement.
“We are still hopeful that the dialogue with the government continues, with reasonable offers that can guarantee long-term service,” Hernández added.
The company alleges that the suspension of services puts at risk federal funds from the Government Health Program, “since the contract for federal funding through Medicaid between the Puerto Rico government and the federal government, known as the State Medicaid Plan, requires that Puerto Rico operate an air ambulance system. Medicaid funds subsidize over 50% of the Government Health Plan Budget.”
Referring to statistics from the Puerto Rico Medical Center’s Trauma Hospital, Aeromed, says that without an air ambulance service on the island, the mortality rate would increase substantially. It also warns that the lack of service will also jeopardize the Trauma Hospital’s accreditation. Vieques, Culebra, and the US Virgin Islands will also be affected, Aeromed adds.
“This decision is a heavy burden on us because for the past 22 years our mission has been to save lives; but this is also a complex commercial operation and requires income to continue operating. Our corporation has subsidized the air ambulance transport system for Puerto Rico since 2013. At this time, without an acceptable fee and a formal payment plan for the existing debt, it is impossible for us to continue to provide this vital service,” Hernández said.
Health Secretary Ana Rius said her department is boosting ambulance services by land, while other medical authorities warned that some lives are being put at risk.
Rius criticized Aeromed for not accepting a government payment offer that she said was made in a serious, responsible and good faith manner.
“It is extremely important that we restart this service,” she said, adding that officials are still negotiating with Aeromed and other similar companies. “Puerto Rico is going through an economic crisis like no other. As health secretary, my focus is on protecting the health of all Puerto Ricans.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.