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Helicopter medical service opening in Potsdam is slightly delayed

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POTSDAM - The opening of a helicopter medical service based in Potsdam has been delayed because of hiring and training needs.

Air Methods Corp., Englewood, Colo., had hoped to base a helicopter at the Potsdam Airport by July 1. Doing business as LifeNet of New York, the company opened its Watertown unit at Watertown International Airport near Dexter earlier this month.

“It may be closer to Aug. 1, but we still are coming to St. Lawrence County,” Business Development Manager Ann M. Smith said at a recent presentation on the service to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators. “We will be bringing new jobs to the area.”

In addition to herself, the company will hire four registered nurses, four paramedics, two mechanics and four pilots to operate the 24/7 service.

With the loss several years ago of the Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic unit at Fort Drum, emergency medical helicopters that service the county can come from Saranac Lake, Syracuse, Canandaigua or Albany. Response time varies. Companies that provide the service have been difficult to attract in the past because of the low call volume.

The Watertown and Potsdam stations will back each other up. Each station will house one helicopter, Ms. Smith said. LifeNet will respond to on-scene calls, as well as make flights from hospitals and airports.

Several legislators worried residents might not be able to afford a medical helicopter flight, which ranges from $20,000 to $50,000. However, Ms. Smith said, the average cost is typically higher than what the company collects. Rates are negotiated with insurance companies just as other medical costs are.

LifeNet will go to bat for patients with their insurance companies and hardship applications are available, she said.

“It is greatly needed and it will benefit everyone in the county,” Ms. Smith said.

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