Big Rapids mayor visits county commission to enlist help with Aero Med

EMERGENCY CALL: Mayor Mark Warba appeared before the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners to enlist their help in convincing Aero Med to reconsider the decision to relocate. (Pioneer photo/Adam Gac)

EMERGENCY CALL: Mayor Mark Warba appeared before the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners to enlist their help in convincing Aero Med to reconsider the decision to relocate. (Pioneer photo/Adam Gac)

BIG RAPIDS — Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba didn’t mince words when he appeared before the Mecosta County Commission on Thursday.

The city wants help.

At the end of a presentation in July on the state of Roben-Hood Airport by Colt Aviation owner Mike Lafferty it was revealed that Spectrum Health’s Aero Med had merged with Munson’s North Flight program, to form a new entity, North Flight Aero Med,  that would not be operating out of Big Rapids, instead relocating their helicopter to Traverse City.

Warba explained to the commission why the news was particularly surprising.

“In 2011, the city entered into a 20-year lease agreement with Spectrum Health Hospital to accommodate living and office quarters for the medical and flight teams of Aero Med,” Warba said. “Since 2011, I’ve not heard any complaint about the facilities, the crew quarters or fuel availability. From some numbers I’ve seen, flights have increased over time. And I know of more than one person who has been a beneficiary of having Aero Med in this community.”

The people in the community who have been personally affected by Aero Med should have their stories shared with Spectrum, Warba said.

“I’m open to suggestions as to what we may be able to do to appeal to Spectrum to step back and maybe reconsider their decision to relocate the helicopter,” Warba said. “We don’t have any say in merger decisions, but I’d like to think we have a voice in regard to the presence of that helicopter in this community.”

Grand Rapids to Big Rapids is 22 minutes by helicopter, and Traverse City to Big Rapids is 38 minutes, Warba said, adding that minutes can make the difference in surviving trauma.

“I’m not seeing, and I don’t fully understand, how extending time for response is adding to quality of care and still providing what I think is a needed service in this community,” he said.

Commissioner Jerilynn Strong asked Warba if members of the community should write to Spectrum to express their feelings.

If the city appeals to Spectrum like a landlord to a tenant, the appeal will be lost in bureaucratic noise, Warba said.

“I would think that if people who have been a beneficiary of that service appeal to Spectrum to step back and perhaps reconsider their decision, that to me is what gets attention, or at least I hope it would,” he said.

“I would think a letter asking for reconsideration of the matter would be appropriate from the county commissioners,” Commissioner Linda Howard said. “As the former owners of the hospital, we are the logical entity to at least ask the question – not that we’re directly involved anymore, but I think we have the ability to at least ask that the decision be reconsidered.”

The commissioners decided to compose a letter to Spectrum which will be reviewed before being submitted to the healthcare agency.

It was insinuated when Big Rapids was making the decision to build the Aero Med facility that the company would remain in the community, according to Commissioner Art Adleman.

“I certainly was of the opinion that once Aero Med was there, it would stay,” he said.

The 20-year contract Aero Med signed with the airport stipulates the organization must give a 180-day notice if it intends to terminate the agreement, which has not yet been received, according to Warba.

“You don’t enter into a 20-year lease and four years into it say goodbye,” he said.

Adleman expressed concern over public perception of the potential departure of Aero Med, given the relationship between Spectrum Health and the county.

“If this were to happen, you know who the first people to get slapped in the face will be? This board right here, because we made the ultimate decision (to give Spectrum control of the hospital).”

The merger between Aero Med and North Flight is not related to the acquisition of the Big Rapids and Reed City hospitals, according to county Administrator Paul Bullock.

“I sat in on a lot of discussions about the transition to Spectrum for our hospital,” Bullock said. “Aero Med was never discussed in any meeting I was in, ever. It was not a part of the hospital, it is a separate corporation. There was never any discussion that I was privy to regarding the future of Aero Med in the city of Big Rapids being any part of the hospital transition.”

As commissioners go forward into their districts they need to spread the word that this is a possibility, Strong said.

“We’re looking at almost an hour for medical transportation,” she said. “You might as well get in the car and drive.”

In other business:

  • Commissioners unanimously approved a realignment of the Michigan Works! West Central Prosperity region, adding Oceana County to the region.
  • Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of a  wheelchair accessible van for the Mecosta County Commission on Aging. The van had a total cost of $38,658, which was covered by state and federal grants.
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Posted by Adam Gac

Adam is the Pioneer City/County Reporter, covering government in Mecosta County. He can be reached by e-mail at agac@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8347.

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