Life Flight leaves Spearfish airport

Black Hills Life Flight will no longer operate from a base in Spearfish, company officials said, citing an analysis of its operation. Pioneer file photo

SPEARFISH — Black Hills Life Flight will no longer be based in Spearfish.

Air Methods Corporation, a Greenwood Village, Colo., company that operates Black Hills Life Flight announced the move after a review and analysis of its operation.

“Air Methods will continue to cover the service area with other Black Hills Life Flight air medical rotor-wing and fixed-wing aircraft,” said Doug Flanders, director of communications and government affairs for Air Methods. “The dispatch center will not experience any interruption in service.”

Life Flight began operating in Spearfish in the summer of 2018. Its reasoning was that one in every three if their flights was across state lines and the Spearfish base would help improve access to critical care services.

Flanders said it costs about $3 million annually per air base and the reimbursement rates from Medicaid and Medicare as well as a high uninsured rate in South Dakota, the ability to maintain the base at the Black Hills Airport/Clyde Ice Field was not sustainable.

“Today, the average Medicare per-transport reimbursement covers approximately half of the cost per transport,” Flanders said, citing an Association of Air Medical Services study.

“In South Dakota, over 70% of our transports are Medicaid, Medicare, and self-pay/uninsured, which combined reimburses less than 30% of overall costs,” he said. “… Medicaid in South Dakota pays roughly $2,500 per patient transport, with Medicare covering around $6,000, and self-pay/uninsured normal out-of-pocket is $125.

He said the Medicare reimbursement rate was established in 2002 based on an “estimated 1998 cost pool.”

Air Methods operates a fixed-wing air base in Rapid City and a rotary-wing base in Hot Springs.

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