Local air ambulance service takes off

A new locally based air ambulance is now offering evacuation services to local patients. 

Aitheras Aviation Group began offering services to all local hospitals on Oct. 15. A Cessna Citation Ultra V jet, stationed at Island Air at the Owen Roberts International Airport, is available to transport patients around the clock, seven days a week.  

The jet can accommodate up to two patients at a time, plus two medical personnel, two pilots and medical equipment, according to the company.  

“We’ve met our requirements and the business is now operational. We are pleased to be operational and ready to take calls,” said Mark Scotland, former health minister and director of the company. The company has partnered with Cayman Air Medical Services, owned by Dr. Steve Tomlinson, to train local hospital staff as medical personnel on a part-time basis for the company.  

“Cayman Air Medical Services is supplying medical crew consisting of 11 critical care nurses and paramedics,” said Mitch Stanaland, Aitheras Aviation Group’s operations manager.  

“All medical personnel are part-time and enjoy other full-time employment with their primary employers,” he said. Another local air ambulance provider, Cayman Islands MedEvac, shut down its ambulance division on Oct. 2. 

“The demand doesn’t support two air ambulances,” said William Bodden, owner of Cayman Islands MedEvac. “[We would be] fighting over 12 calls per month, and we just don’t want to take that chance. We don’t have the money to lose. If we were the only one, we would have taken that chance.  

“CINICO is the leader in air transportation. [Maybe] if we had got the bulk of their transfers … but because there are two air ambulances on island right now, we don’t stand a chance competing against them.” 

Mr. Scotland said Aitheras Aviation Group has not signed any contracts with local insurers or hospitals. “There is no exclusivity there. The Health Services Authority does not have exclusive contracts with one provider,” he said. 

Air ambulance providers  

Local hospitals do not determine which air ambulance provider is used when transporting a critical care patient. It is up to the individual’s insurer, which chooses from a list of approved candidates.  

Currently, local insurers have 17 overseas air ambulance providers and one local provider from which to choose. The companies have been granted permits under the Air Navigation (Overseas Territory) Order 2007 to carry out air evacuations of local patients. Once a doctor identifies that a patient needs to be airlifted for emergency treatment, the patient’s insurance provider sends out a notification to all the licensed air ambulance providers, and a mini-tendering process takes place, said Mr. Bodden. 

“Each insurer has their own preferred providers. Some may have six, and then they will send out a request to the air ambulance company, which is given 30 minutes to an hour to respond back with a quote and, based on the quote, [the insurer] will pick [the provider].” 

Mr. Bodden said families of critical care patients also have the option to send a request to insurers to use a specific air ambulance company. 

“You as a family member have a right to choose an air ambulance company for your loved one … That family has the right to call the insurance company and request an air ambulance provider. They are free to make sure that the air ambulance company has the proper insurance coverage… the loved ones have a right to research the company.”  

Mr. Bodden said that although his air ambulance division is closed, a few people in the community are helping him keep his ground ambulance service afloat until his company gets government funding from the Health Services Authority in July 2015. He said his ambulance is due to serve as back-up for emergency care for patients at the Cayman Islands Hospital in George Town, allowing the Health Services Authority to station one of its ambulances in Bodden Town. The Health Services Authority currently has five ambulances in its fleet; three are operational and on the road at any given time, and two are stationed as spares.  

Jeanette Verhoeven, a life and health insurance specialist for insurance broker Aon Risk Solutions, said having a local air ambulance company will save time and lives. 

“I personally am very excited and supportive of our new local air ambulance service provider and feel confident it will help save lives. As a nurse who has worked accident and emergency here, and in assisting many clients through the years with air ambulance transfer, I know – and cannot emphasize enough – how important a few hours saved getting emergency care may mean towards better outcomes,” she said. 

Earlier this year, Aitheras Aviation’s Mr. Stanaland told the Cayman Compass that local demand for evacuations would be roughly two flights per week, which works out to about 270 flights per year. 

Before this service was available on island, health officials contracted with air ambulance service providers based in the United States, which meant a longer wait time for patients in need of critical care.  

CINICO health insurance paid slightly more than $800,000 for 71 medical evacuations during the financial year ending July 2012. That represents a fraction of the total number of evacuations with private insurance companies. 


Mitch Stanaland stands between pilots Matt Wagner and Jamie Hocutt in front of the new air ambulance.

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