Provider Profile: San Antonio AirLIFE

Bell 407 on emergency call
A lifeline in the air

Adair Welfel of San Antonio AirLIFE gives an insight into the organisation’s inner workings, history and philosophy

A little history
San Antonio AirLIFE was one of the original air medical services in south Texas when it was chartered in 1990, at which time it was a non-profit that was co-owned by Baptist Health System and University Health System. We had our first transport in January of 1991, and at that time, we operated a three-helicopter fleet that partnered with local hospitals and EMS organisations. We were acquired by Air Methods in 2015. 
Since the acquisition, we have grown exponentially – we have added new bases and increased the area we can service. In addition, we have access to clinical and aviation training and information. For example, since Air Methods has an internal review board, it created a new intubation process that we have been able to train on and use. Moreover, Air Methods has invested extensively in aviation training through new flight simulators that provide pilots with realistic scenarios. 
As with any acquisition, change can be difficult, but the AirLIFE team and Air Methods did a great job making sure that we kept the big picture in mind. Overall, it has been beneficial to the team and the community, enhancing our involvement in community events and getting our message out to a greater degree. 
 

San Antonio AirLIFE helicopter runway bell 407

Bases 
We currently have six bases across south Texas. In terms of expansion, we are constantly evaluating the needs of the community – by mid-summer, we will be adding a fixed-wing aircraft to our fleet, which will be based in New Braunfels. This will allow us to increase the area we can serve. In addition, over the years, we have updated our capabilities with new instruments and instrument flight rules (IFR)-capable airframes that allow us to operate in inclement weather. 

Fleet

  • One Pilatus PC-12 
  • Two Airbus EC145s 
  • Two Bell 407s.
  • Adapting the aircraft 

Our aircraft are like mini-ICUs. We are equipped with miniature versions of all the equipment that you would find in the hospital ICU setting so that we can provide that level of care for our patients, as they are in a life-or-death situation. This also includes whole blood, which we have been carrying since 2018 and is critical for air medical services. 

San Antonio AirLIFE helicopter medical team

Mission profiles 
When a physician orders air medical transport, it is often because the medical facility does not have the right equipment, staff or expertise. When called by a first responder, it is because they have determined – at the scene of an accident – that an emergency air medical aircraft is necessary. In these cases, our services are requested. We also have teams that specialise in neonatal, paediatric and high-risk pregnancies.
Since 1991, AirLIFE has completed approximately 60,000 missions. In 2019, so far, we have completed approximately 700 missions. 

Mission statement 
We are here to elevate care and provide patients with top care when they need us. As an organisation, we are constantly considering the needs of the community and patients. This includes our work to go in-network with as many health plans as possible. In-network coverage offers health plan members a discounted, out-of-pocket payment for qualified services, which varies depending on their plan’s benefits. Staying in-network for their healthcare can help consumers avoid unexpected spending as well as balanced billing, which is the practice of the healthcare provider billing a patient for the difference between the plan’s reimbursement and the medical charges.
Another example is our decision to end memberships. We believe that memberships are a fear tactic that suggest an insurance company will leave patients with high medical bills. We believe there is a better way with in-network agreements: patient advocacy that walks patients through the insurance process and Community Partnership Programs.