Will Air Ambulance Services Be Suspended during the Covid-19 Outbreak?

We take it for granted that emergency medical services will always be there for us in our time of need. After all, their sole purpose is to provide life saving measures in emergency situations. With the new climate evolving due to Covid-19 concerns, can you truly rely on these same services to save you, should it come to that? That may depend upon ever changing policies of the companies providing these services.

These are uncharted waters we are all navigating and safety policies and procedures seemingly change by the day. The medical field being hardest hit due to lack of supplies is having to make harsh decisions no one ever thought could happen -deciding who to treat. This crisis is radiating outward to areas of medical care that reach beyond hospitals. Air ambulance services are now weighing risk when decide whether to transport Covid-19 positive patients.

The trouble with transport

Air Methods owns and operates MedFlight, Tulsa Life Flight, and MediFlight of Oklahoma. Eagle Med and Air Evac Life Team also operate air ambulance services in Oklahoma. There is a section dealing with Coronavirus updates on Air Methods’ web site. One of those updates includes the statement that “We will transport COVID-19 patients as long as we have proper PPE.”

PPE stands for personal protective equipment, which includes:

  • N95 masks and respirators
  • Surgical gloves
  • Surgical gowns
  • Face shields
  • Goggles and glasses
  • Head and shoe covers

The subject of PPE has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 crisis given the shortage in hospitals across the country already dealing with, or preparing for, the Covid-19 peak. This equipment is needed across the medical field to protect those who come in contact with infected patients during the course of treatment from becoming infected themselves.

Depending upon the individual air ambulance service and ever changing policies, it’s possible that services may be suspended should they be unable to obtain sufficient PPE for flight nurses and doctors, and pilots. This means that patients testing positive or deemed high risk for having Covid-19 who would best be served by air transport may not receive vital help, which could very well be the difference between life and death.

The problem with refusing medical care

Air ambulance services are expensive, and are only dispatched to provide critical care while quickly transporting patients in certain emergencies when time is of the essence. When medical services begin to refuse providing necessary care to prevent loss of life, it may be deemed as a breach of the duty of care owed to patients.

Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), patients seeking emergency medical care cannot be denied treatment. As such, air ambulance services owned and operated by hospital systems to provide emergency medical transport owe a duty to the patients seeking treatment from them. If the hospital chooses to suspend air ambulance services (refusal to provide care), a medical malpractice claim may come to fruition if the patient’s condition worsens causing damage or death.

Medical malpractice claims may not stop there. Even air ambulance services that are contracted still owe a professional duty of care to patients. Air Methods has also stated “If safe transport is not possible due to lack of PPE, an alternate mode of transport will be recommended for the patient.” Breaching the duty of care by resorting to alternate transportation that may result in patient decline because a patient may be contagious could cause the patient harm, putting the company in the position of being sued.

At the end of the day, air ambulances are mobile emergency rooms that provide a vital healthcare resource to patients in dire need of medical attention. If you have been harmed while seeking care from an air ambulance, consider seeking legal advice from the law firm with your best interest in mind. The Oklahoma City personal injury attorneys at Cunningham & Mears will explain the full array of legal options available to you. To schedule your free case evaluation with a member from our team, call 405.451.4029 today or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact form.