The addition of air ambulance service at French Valley Airport was cheered this week by business leaders and Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington, who said it’s a key piece of the grand plan for both the airport and health care in the region.
“We thought going in that we were on the front end a healthcare growth curve/wave and hearing Supervisor Washington talk about the journey from rural to a more suburban community reinforces that,” said Matt McLuckie, a former pilot who serves as spokesman for REACH Air Medical Services.
“I loved his line about Murrieta back when ‘there were more veterinarians than doctors.’ The community is growing from there to world class health care for the residents and REACH is excited to be a part of that for many years to come.”
REACH landed at the airport in April of this year but it took a few months for the Santa Rosa-based company to get settled in its new digs. On Monday, Oct. 30, they showed off their Airbus helicopters and new REACH-branded workspace at a ribbon-cutting ceremony inside the airport’s Hangar 51.
“We’ve experienced what a really great community it is, as evidenced by the welcoming atmosphere at the ribbon cutting. We ‘knew’ it, but again a whole new experience to really be there,” McLuckie said following the ceremony.
The French Valley base, which includes office space and crew quarters for the service’s on-call pilots, is the first in western Riverside County for the company, which operates another seven bases in Southern California.
The plan is for the French Valley facility to serve as a “backup resource” for the bases serving Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties. Other bases are in Thermal and Upland.
The flight crew on a REACH helicopter includes a critical care nurse and a paramedic, or two nurses, and a pilot. The company uses an Airbus EC-135 with dual engines that can fly at air speeds of up to 150 mph, according to a release.
“The helicopter’s (instrument flight rules) capability allows it to fly when other aircraft may be grounded due to weather,” said Anna Blair, vice president of strategy for REACH. “It has the capacity to transport the patient, flight crew and whenever possible a family member.”
For local residents, McLuckie said the French Valley airport is about 10-15 minutes closer by air than the facility in Hemet, where Mercy Air, REACH’s main competition, has a base.
There is a significant cost associated with the use of an air ambulance if a flight is not covered by insurance – some companies charge tens of thousands of dollars – but people can sign up for a membership with AirMedCare Network, which covers out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an emergency transport. A membership for a family runs around $65 a year and helps prevent cases in which an insurer will cover only a portion of the cost, which is called “balance billing.”