Barshinger Investigating Medical Helicopter Service Feasibility

Helicopters are landing and taking off from the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center these days, but the copters have nothing to do with medicine.

There is no helicopter in the territory devoted to transporting those in need of medical care to nearby hospitals, but the health center is making use of its helipad by welcoming private commercial helicopters — including one owned by country music entertainer Kenny Chesney — for a small fee.

At just $75 per drop, the health center is not making a significant amount of money off the commercial use of its helipad, explained MKSCHC’s administrator Harold Wallace.

“It’s not a significant revenue generator for us,” said Wallace. “It’s $75 per drop and we get a couple a month.”

Wallace has been busy gathering information on the possibility of bringing medical air service to the territory at the request of Senator at Large Craig Barshinger. As is often the case at the small health center, expanding services is a matter of money.

“Revenues do not exceed expenses here, so for us to do that type of service, there has to be a subsidy from the government and from the public,” said Wallace. “If they want to provide the dollars for a helicopter service, we’d be more than happy to provide it.”

Barshinger has plans to meet in early 2010 with Wallace and Senator Patrick Simeon Sprauve, who’s also interested in exploring the possibility of funding medical air service in the territory, to discuss the findings of Wallace’s research.

“Harold researched it thoroughly, and he has a lot of food for thought,” said Barshinger.

Helicopters are expensive to operate, and it’s unlikely that a helicopter devoted entirely to St. John would be economically feasible, the senator at large continued.

“It needs to be done with economic sense in mind,” said Barshinger. “We may find that it’s not incredibly expensive if we run it between all three islands and Puerto Rico, and do all our transport by air.”

There are rural towns with smaller populations than that of St. John with a dedicated air ambulance service, Barshinger added.

“Why shouldn’t we consider it?” he said. “Why should we just assume that we’re stuck with the Star of Life?”

The senator at large has not heard a strong cry from St. John residents who want air ambulance service, and the possibility of such a service is still in the very preliminary stages. Barshinger would be willing to fight hard for funding for the service if it’s deemed something St. John residents really want, he explained.

“It’s my duty as a senator who lives on St. John to try and find out if it’s possible,” he said. “If people are really happy with the boat system, we should just try and beef that system up. We want to know what the public wants.”

Barshinger urged residents to email him with their opinions on air ambulance service for St. John at