Cameron Curtis, CMM, CAE, has more than 19 years of association management experience and comes to AAMS from SmithBucklin’s Healthcare + Scientific Industry Practice, where she served as Executive Director for the Society of Interventional Oncology (SIO), Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS), Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association (TSHA), and Association of Meeting Professionals (AMPS).
What are your primary objectives as the new CEO and President of AAMS?
My vision for AAMS is to unify the industry so we can focus on what’s most important. That includes supporting our emergency medical services providers by providing the resources they need to deliver safe and quality life-saving care to communities around the world, and to educate the public on how the medical transport industry works in their communities. My priority is to provide more education – online and in person – for all the professionals in this industry and to build a pipeline to attract future flight crews. I want to look at welcoming equity, diversity, and inclusion to really impact this space. In fact, AAMS has recently appointed a seven-member D&I Committee to address these resources needed for the critical care industry. Finally, I want to work with our leadership to impact safety regulations, by providing guidelines and best practices for our critical care transport providers.
With Coronavirus dominating the world at the moment, what are your members reporting to be the most significant challenges they are facing with regards to providing their services safely?
A lack of resources related to equipment shortages, including ventilators, as well as appropriate PPE. They are on the front line as trained responders in infectious diseases, but never before have they had to deal with an outbreak of this size and scale with a lack of equipment to keep them safe. Regardless of the shortages, our crews have adapted and created safe solutions for reusing PPE such as N95 masks.
It must be disappointing to hear from the NTSB about practices by operators of air medical services that are negatively affecting safe operations of HEMS, such as the recent report on the Survival Flight crash. What actions has AAMS taken to ensure that its members are proactive in their safety measures? Do you think additional regulations are needed to ensure safer operations?
AAMS has consistently supported a multitude of regulations to enhance safe operations in the HEMS community. We supported Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations finalized in 2014 to significantly raise weather minimums for Visual Flight Rules (VFR) operation, among multiple other regulations designed to enhance the safety of air ambulance operations, including the requirement to operate with Helicopter Terrain Alert and Warning Systems (HTAWS), and Operational Control Centers (OCCs). The multiple regulations supported by AAMS were specifically designed to address the risks presented in the NTSB’s latest accident report. We’ve also worked tirelessly as an industry to raise safety standards and share best practices. We view any disregard of these efforts – especially those that exist to preserve the safety of air medical patients and crews – as a serious matter. Our organization advocates for the highest operational standards, and we remain committed to enhancing the safety of air medical operations and the patients and air ambulance crews that we transport.
In April, AAMS asked Congress for US$815,920,000 in additional Public Health and Social Service Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) grants specifically for air ambulance providers to cover the 40 per cent average loss in patient volume members are currently experiencing and anticipate will continue over the next six months of this crisis. Has there been any update on this request? How has the CARES Act affected air medical providers?
We continue to engage both chambers of Congress and the Administration on the needs of our members during this public health emergency. That specific request reflected our understanding of those needs at the time and was made as part of a series of requests from the healthcare community to the next round of federal legislation in support of the healthcare community – a ‘CARES Act 2’. Congress is still considering whether to act on a second stimulus; however, our members have benefited to some extent from the programs implemented by the CARES Act. The needs of the air medical community will change based on the impact of those programs as well as the further impact of the pandemic on the air medical, EMS, and larger healthcare community.
Could you give an update on what is happening with the Air Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee? What is AAMS doing to help prepare providers for a possible change in oversight?
AAMS fully supports the work of this committee. We anticipate their recommendations will create a far more educated oversight process with better data and analysis to solve problems presented by a multitude of factors, whether in insurer behaviors, underpayment by government healthcare programs that represent more than 70 per cent of the patients we transport, or by air medical providers themselves that are not operating according to the existing rules and regulations. We continue to provide regular legislative updates to our members via virtual Town Halls, as well as email communications, and will create resources to help them navigate any changes that occur in the future.
What do you perceive as the primary challenges facing air medical providers in the US currently, Covid-19 aside?
I think the biggest issue facing our members is the same issue facing healthcare providers and the communities they serve; how to appropriately provide the highest level of care possible in an environment with an ever-diminishing payment structure. This is already devastating the provision of healthcare in rural areas as hospital closures lead to a need for more transports over longer distances. Yet the same economic forces that closed the hospital lead to the closure of air and ground medical transport resources. That same economic crisis is now creeping into suburban healthcare areas, and the strain is often felt by the sickest and most injured patients first. The Covid-19 pandemic brought renewed focus on these problems and highlighted the need for all healthcare resources. It is my intention to work with other industries to develop solutions that directly impact the lives of the patients who need us most.
Is AMTC still taking place in November? Are there contingency plans for a smaller event, or one that is going to be done virtually?
I am closely monitoring the reopening of the cities where we plan to host all our upcoming events including our Safety Management Training Academy (27-30 July) in San Antonio, Texas, and our Medical Transport Leadership Institute that was postponed until 16 August at the Oglebay Resort & Conference Center in Wheeling, West Virginia.
As for AMTC, registration is open and the AAMS staff are working as if it will happen, in person, as scheduled. Nashville has a road map for reopening safely, and we have been in constant contact with Nashville city representatives to stay abreast of the current regulations and reopening procedures. While I hope we can meet in person to learn, network, and celebrate, I am looking at alternative delivery models to provide the cutting-edge education our members need and want.
How have your previous Executive Director roles helped to prepare you for the challenges ahead with AAMS?
I am able to use my past 19 years of experience at a variety of healthcare organizations as well as in the airline industry to focus on building revenue streams, grant programs, and expanding membership. While I am not a medical professional or a pilot, I am here to support them in any way necessary. The public doesn’t completely understand rotary-wing, fixed-wing, and critical care ground transports and all the people that touch those segments, such as hospital personnel, mechanics, nurses, paramedics, communication specialists, part manufacturers, pilots, and others. Now that I am getting to know our 600 organizational members and the 12,000 critical care transport crews they represent, I have an opportunity to make changes that will inform the public and better support our members in their local communities.