Air St. Lukes got a slap on the wrist in late January. The medical air transportation unit of St. Lukes Health System had orders from the Oregon Health Authority to immediately stop responding to emergency calls in Oregon and to keep unlicensed affiliates and employees from treating or transporting patients.
The letter said Air St. Lukes had been operating an ambulance service without a license a misdemeanor that comes with a potential $5,000 fine.
After investigating, the Oregon agency said it could document 12 instances of Air St. Lukes conducting business in Oregon without the required license.
The agency hasnt fined Air St. Lukes for the violations.
Ken Dey, a spokesman for the Boise-based health system, said Air St. Lukes had been operating in Oregon since it started about 10 years ago.
We didnt know or believe we needed a license, because we were doing interstate transfers from Oregon to Boise and not intrastate transfers within Oregon, he said. We also do the same thing in Nevada and have had no issues with that.
The licensure problem doesnt mean the helicopters or Air St. Lukes operations are unsafe. Air St. Lukes has the approval of the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems. Air St. Lukes leases helicopters and uses pilots from Idaho Helicopters Inc., a Boise company that started in 1970.
We still question whether we should have to be licensed, because we dont have any bases in Oregon, he said.
Nevertheless, the system had applied for a license in April 2011. The reason, Dey said, was that St. Lukes anticipated needing to be licensed for intrastate transfers as its network grew into eastern Oregon. The health system had acquired two medical practices in Ontario and Baker City.
St. Lukes expects Oregon officials to inspect the facilities and aircraft in August and to issue the license soon after, he said.
Air St. Lukes has taken two calls for emergency transport in Oregon since receiving the Oregon order. Thats because Life Flight wasnt available at the time, and the state allowed those exceptions, Dey said. Life Flight is the other major emergency medical helicopter company for the eastern Oregon area. Life Flight is based in Aurora, Ore., south of Portland, and is partly owned by Saint Alphonsus Health System in Boise.
Dey said Air St. Lukes helicopters are cleared to land at Oregon hospitals and airports but cannot work on car crashes along the highway.
So that it can still bring patients from Oregons Jordan Valley to hospitals in the Treasure Valley, Air St. Lukes set up a landing area on the Idaho side of the Oregon border. From there, Air St. Lukes can fly emergency patients who are brought into Idaho on the ground, Dey said.
Michael Griffiths, chief executive officer of Life Flight Network, said Air St. Lukes is a competitor and that he was surprised to hear, when it was brought to our attention, that they were operating without the appropriate license.
Life Flight takes about 1,200 calls a year for emergency airlift or hospital transports in eastern Oregon, Griffiths said. Air St. Lukes also takes about 1,200 calls a year from its Boise and Twin Falls bases, including the calls it took in Oregon with that states permission, Dey said.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey