CareFlight program builds in year 2 |

CareFlight program builds in year 2

Care Flight crew members Flight Paramedic Ryan Griffin, Flight Nurse Kelly Thompson and Pilot Josh Thorne prepare the helicopter for a new shift at the Rifle Airport on Wednesday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

With around 450 patient pickup and transfers out of the Rifle region a year, CareFlight offers medical services that make living in western Garfield County safer and more affordable for residents. CareFlight is a nonprofit air transport service run by St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction.

CareFlight has helicopter bases at Rifle Airport and Montrose Memorial Hospital; a fixed-wing based at Grand Junction Regional Airport; and a ground ambulance at St. Mary’s Hospital.

The program has been around for 40 years, but it’s been in the past three years that it moved farther out into the region. CareFlight started operating out of the Rifle Garfield County Airport in September 2016 to optimize efficiency by basing operations in areas with the greatest need. It’s the only air medical flight program out of Rifle.

CareFlight strives to be a leader in air medical transport and emergency services in the region, said CareFlight Chief Flight Nurse Kathy Shoemaker.

“Our mission is to provide the highest level of critical care available in the safest manner at the least expense to the patient,” she said. “We feel we can accomplish this due to our support from our hospitals.”

As a hospital-based program, CareFlight looks to provide the highest level of critical care, including a variety of specialty services. Each CareFlight is staffed by a registered nurse and a paramedic, who must undergo a four- to six-month training process. The training includes all aspects of critical care medicine, flight operations and safety.

Since CareFlight is a nonprofit, the cost to patients is generally less than for-profit services, which pass on costs to insurance companies. Air medical transport can often be expensive for the patient.

“The goal of our billing practices is to have the least impact on the patient’s financial resources as possible,” Shoemaker said. “This is accomplished through not balance-billing those insured patients and working with the uninsured to accept payment of what they can afford.”

Being a nonprofit “gives us the opportunity to invest our resources back into the program — safety training, additional education — where a for-profit company has different goals.”

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