By Matthew Rielly
September 03, 2009
First, I should disclose that I am employed by Guardian Flight. I am not an official spokesman for the company. I am writing as a concerned citizen to help educate the community by refuting confusing and biased information presented in the aforementioned article. I have lived in Southeast Alaska for 20 years and consider myself a local.
Dr. Sterling founded Guardian's medevac service five years ago in response to a community need. Unfortunately, the business didn't support itself. Financial drain led Dr. Sterling to seek a buyer for the company. He found Jim and Joe Hunt of Blanding, Utah, who already owned a medevac business and saw Guardian's potential. During the period that Dr. Sterling owned Guardian there was never a rate increase. When the Hunts bought the company they adjusted prices so that they could continue to provide the community with a service and stay in business for the long haul. Our nation is facing a health care crisis. The fact is that health care costs have doubled in the last four years. Any reasonable person can understand why the Hunts had to increase their rates.
An unfair comparison was made between Guardian Flight and a competitor called Airlift Northwest. Airlift Northwest's prices are lower than Guardian's. Airlift Northwest tried to base themselves in Ketchikan twice but had to leave both times because of the loss of revenue. They may be leaving Juneau as well because of the loss of approximately 5 million dollars in revenue last year. Airlift Northwest's prices are so low that they can't stay in business in Southeast Alaska. They are also a non-profit organization, getting subsidies from outside sources. Guardian is a stand-alone program, receiving no subsidies. Their revenues come from the end user. The hospital(s) that are subsidizing Airlift Northwest are subsidizing the airlift of tourists who visit here, who get sick and need to return to the Lower 48. I would rather our local money support our local services and that the end users, who are tourists, pay for their own flight home.
If you compare Guardian's prices with like operators in the Lower 48 (who are charging prices to stay in business and not just trying to undercut a competitor) you will find that Guardian's prices are very competitive. In the Lower 48 a medevac company may fly one or more flights per day. In Alaska, because of the sparse population, a medevac company may only fly a few flights per week. Yet, the costs for the two companies remain the same. A company in the Lower 48 can charge less per flight because of the volume of its flights. Costs incurred maintaining aircraft, paying employee wages, etc., must be dispersed within the ability to generate revenue; So a medevac company in Southeast Alaska must figure out how to maintain financial stability flying fewer flights. Also, a medevac program in Alaska is more expensive to run because of the environment. Weather factors increase the operating costs. It is my hope that the community would want Guardian Flight to pay their employees a wage that would draw in competitent people; people who would want to stay and become a part of the community.
I don't think Jim and Joe Hunt are carpet baggers. They have never pursued anyone into collections for an unpaid bill. I think that Guardian Flight is an asset to the community because they are here to stay; that Airlift Northwest only hurts our community by undercutting Guardian's prices while competing from a different location. If anyone is a carpet bagger, they are.
Compare Guardian's rates with like operators in the Lower 48. taking into account our high cost of operating in Alaska and the fewer number of flights that are generated. It's obvious that the Hunts are not making a lot of money. They're modest people and are in it for the love of the business and the love of community. We should thank them for helping our community maintain a locally based medevac service.
About: Concerned citizen. Employee of Guardian Flight but not an official spokesman for the company.
Received September 02, 2009 - Published September 03, 2009
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