CREATED Sep. 26, 2012 - UPDATED: Sep. 26, 2012
LEE COUNTY - After more than 30 years, Lee County may be grounding the Medstar program indefinitely. Because of a recent scandal, officials are now considering turning the EMS helicopter program over to a private company. Four in your Corner's Mike Mason joins us live to explain.
The Medstar program was grounded last month because officials improperly billed clients hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now Lee County is considering cutting ties with the program altogether. A former pilot says that could end up costing you more in the long run.
Lee County making it official; they're now accepting bids from any company that's qualified to get Medstar off the ground again. The county posting this letter of interest to their website ... it's essentially a job application, “Seeking someone to provide EMS helicopter services to the citizens and visitors of Lee County…soliciting proposals from corporations and other private entities."
But not everyone thinks Medstar should become a private company.
Arnold “Mac” McAllister: "Their lift-off fees are typically quite a bit more than the county’s."
Arnold “Mac” McAllister - or ‘Mac’ - was Medstar's pilot for more than 10 years. He feels the public will suffer if the program becomes privatized because the county goes above and beyond when it comes to safety.
Arnold “Mac” McAllister: "Everything that the FAA recommends has been installed in that helicopter.”
Mike Mason: "Even if it's not mandatory?”
Arnold “Mac” McAllister: "Even if it's not mandatory, we're way ahead of the curb.
Mike Mason: “Such as..."
Arnold “Mac” McAllister: "For instance the train obstacle avoidance system, the upgraded GPS, the aircraft has been equipped with night vision goggle technology."
Mac says those safety features make a big difference. He worries private companies may try to pinch pennies by cutting corners. Despite the dark cloud hovering over Medstar, he says the pilots were some of the best.
Arnold “Mac” McAllister: "The pilots and the aircraft were better equipped and the pilots were better trained than the standard that most programs work underneath."
Mac says the county already has an excellent Medstar program....but changes do need to be made beginning at the top.
Arnold “Mac” McAllister :" They're not in the air because we had incompetent managers that were also arrogant."
The deadline for companies to submit a bid is October 17th. Those bids will be presented to county commissioners on November 5th.