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Dispute Could Slow Emergency Flights

By Aaron Blevins, 4/26/2012

CHLA Concerned Lives May be at Stake

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An ongoing legal dispute between two aviation companies is threatening to delay the transport of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) physicians, specialists and patients to and from area facilities.

The company that flies doctors and patients for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is in a legal dispute with the operator that owns space at the airport. (photo courtesy of Helinet)

The disagreement between Helinet Aviation and Pentastar Aviation has the potential to impact emergency flights, in which each passing moment is precious, said Judy Sherif, the administrator for CHLA’s emergency transport program. She said the hospital makes one to five emergency flights each day.

“It’s just tragic,” Sherif said of the situation. “I don’t want to lose a life to stress the point.”

According to representatives of Helinet, president Alan Purwin previously leased property at Van Nuys Airport through a company called Basenet. Pentastar later bought a majority stake in Basenet, and Purwin retained a percentage.

However, in March, Purwin sold his interests in the company, vice president Jack Snyder said. Twenty-four hours later, Basenet notified Helinet administrators that they had to move the company’s helicopters from the ramps where they are staged and positioned, he said. When the company didn’t comply, Basenet threatened eviction and raised Helinet’s fuel prices, Snyder said. Now, the issue is in Los Angeles County Superior Court, as Basenet has filed a case to evict Helinet, and Helinet is suing Pentastar over the increase in fuel prices.

Snyder said Helinet has used the ramp for six years, and any alterations to the current situation would make it more difficult for the company to mobilize, delaying service. Currently, the company can reach CHLA in 12 minutes.

“Every second counts when you’re saving little kids’ lives,” Snyder said. “Obviously, [any delays] jeopardize people’s lives.”

That is of major concern to CHLA, which is mulling its options to mediate the issue if it poses a risk to emergency flight times. However, the options are few and far between, Sherif said.

“If something were to happen, it’s going to have a huge impact on our programs here,” she said.

CHLA could house one of Helinet’s helicopters on the hospital helipad, but as a Level 1 trauma center, first responders need access to the helipad quickly. Storing a helicopter at CHLA would require a pilot to move the helicopter when trauma patients arrive via another aircraft, Sherif said.

“From the hospital’s perspective, that’s really the only option we have,” she added.

Sherif said switching aviation companies would be very difficult, as CHLA and Helinet have built a relationship over the last 13 years. The company has tailored two of its helicopters to the exact specifications of CHLA, outfitting them with needed items such as isolettes, which secure newborns. The working relationship, as well as the helicopter, has been refined over the years through trial and error.

In the interim, CHLA continues to monitor the situation. Sherif said hospital officials have not reached out to Pentastar, though they are trying to raise awareness that the dispute has the potential to delay emergency flights.

“Any delay is critical,” she said. “I don’t think any delay is acceptable.”

Snyder said Helinet also transports harvested organs for several local hospitals, including UCLA, USC and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He said the disagreement has the potential to slow those transports as well, though it is unknown when and if any delays will occur.

Pentastar representatives did not return calls by deadline.

 

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