Azachorok Incorporated calls for expanding medevac services in Western Alaska

On Thursday, January 25, 2024, Azachorok Incorporated unanimously approved a resolution to address and expand the need for more Air Medical Transport (medevac) resources – a vital link in the chain of patient care in the Alaskan health care system for Western Alaska. Most of rural Alaska relies on air travel as 80% of the state’s communities are not connected to the road system. This limited road access makes medevac the only option for emergency care for most of the state’s communities.

“Medevac resources remain limited for Western Alaska and are long overdue. Many times, medevac flights origin out of Anchorage and Bethel adding extra time to get to rural areas where emergency life or death incidents often occur and rely on quicker response times to save more lives,” says Loren Peterson, Chairman & CEO of Azachorok Incorporated. “Currently the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation contracts solely with Life Med for medevac services. Having more resources closer to rural hubs would increase efficiency would be more cost effective and may ultimately save more lives.”

According to the Medevac Utilization and Patient Characteristics in Rural Alaska 2010 to 2018 study by Air Medical Journal, between 2010-2018, there were approximately twenty-four incidents where the medevac arrived on the scene and the victims had already passed away waiting for such a medevac flight.

Based on the study, Medevacs within the YK Delta cost $5 million dollars (accounting for 3% of the entire Medicaid budget for the region) for a population of 23,000, a per capita cost forty times the national average. Costs and charges for medevacs in a national report commissioned in 2017 showed a median charge for a medevac flight nationwide was $10,199.16, however, charges can run much higher in Alaska because of long distances and limited specialist availability, with some medevac charges in excess of $100,000 for long-distance, out-of-state flights for specialty care unavailable in Alaska.

“Having more resources sprinkled throughout rural Alaska, and in this case, Western Alaska, there may be additional lives being saved and we see this as a huge gap in service and urge swift action to fulfill this need” states Peterson. Azachorok Incorporated wishes to see assistance in the form of funding from federal and state agencies and would like to see government contracting opportunities play a role as well.

Such government contracting opportunities may play a viable role in mitigating the number of deaths and may help offset the burden that falls on the sole medevac company Life Med, that services the region. This would also help alleviate the astronomical unemployment in these areas. Having government contracting opportunities would help complement and supplement current medevac flights and services as the current situation is inadequate to respond to many life-threatening incidents in remote and rural areas in a timely manner.

Recently in September of 2023, prominent Alaska Native leader Gene Peltola Jr. passed away while waiting for a medevac flight that took more than five hours to arrive to the site near Saint Mary’s. If there were medevac flights stationed in Saint Mary’s, we may have had a different outcome. Having more medevac flights originating out of communities such as Saint Mary’s would be a more practical and more pragmatic solution to the lack of critical medevac services flights servicing the Yukon Kuskokwim region.

Azachorok Incorporated is an Alaska Native corporation established in 1973 pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Azachorok Incorporated represents more than 520 shareholders who reside in Mountain Village, Alaska and all over the state.