Twin stories in this morning's CH News from Mark Schultz on the front page: "UNC Pledges Cooperation on Airport" and inside: "UNC Gave State Airport Bill Language." Kudos (or the candy of choice) to Schultz for digging away at the behind-closed-doors stuff - e.g., just who from the Univ. was talking to the legislature, seeking the eminent domain provision, etc.; and kudos for going after some actual numbers. Would expect, however, that assurances of cooperation will be received by citizens with the usual and appropriate skepticism - keep those cards and letters coming...
Three irksome aspects of the stories, at least for me:
A. The attrition theme - the persistent suggestion that AHEC participants will opt out if they don't like airport location.
First, it's usually departments and divisions that are the participants, not individual staff members. Those departments/divisions operate according to the institutions' mission, and if Duke or UNC are committed to outreach via AHEC, any single person wouldn't usually be able to opt out on his/her own say-so.
Second, the time differences between getting from UNC or Duke Medical center to RDU vs. HWA or an OC airport are, at best, arguable - and have been the subject of a number of conflicting studies and assertions. Certainly getting from Duke to an OC airport would seem to take longer than going down the Durham Freeway to RDU. But as is repeatedly pointed out, for the vast majority of AHEC's customary trips - which are not life-hanging-in-the-balance - a 10-20 min. difference (assuming even that much difference) isn't likely to bring a dept. or a division to pulling their staff out of AHEC programs. They build into their staff time budget a half-day or a day total, whatever it takes including transit time.
B. The "save the sick children" theme.
Bacon told Schultz that 60% of the AHEC flights were for clinic visits and claimed that (Schultz's wording, not direct quote) "the most common reason for clinic visits was so specialists such as pediatric cardiologists could see children in areas where those specialists aren't available." Next, a direct quote from Bacon: "These are pretty sick kids who are being seen in these clinics."
(As an aside, note that this means that 40% of the AHEC flights are for non-clinical purposes.)
First, as noted in the article, not all of the clinic visits are made using the MedAir planes. We don't know how many of these sick children are being visited by staff using ground transport. And we don't know what numbers actually add up to this "most common" purpose of AHEC trips.
Second, Bacon implies that the largest demand is in pediatrics. It's certainly true that pediatric subspecialties go begging in America's health care system, and NC has a shortage like other states'. However, we don't have any actual numbers here, for one thing. And. . .
Third, this smacks suspiciously of the melodrama seen in the general-aviation PR blitz-campaigns to keep HWA open - targeting legislators and the media with letters describing mortally ill children being whisked away by air to UNC hospitals where their lives were saved.
Let me say this as emphatically as possible: No one wants sick children to have the best possible care more than I do - as we all do. However, implying that failure to build an airport in rural OC or keep HWA/IGX operating in CH will threaten their well-being, and that such a failure means we don't care about sick children? That's both misleading and insulting.
If critically ill children need time-sensitive care, ambulances and hospital helicopters will most probably be used. If chronically ill children need consults from pediatric subspecialists, AHEC is one way to get them there; and 10 or 20 extra minutes either way would not be the pivotal determinant in that choice.
C. The vanishing-RDU-option theme - the persistent dodging of the choice to move AHEC to RDU as best and final option:
The 8th paragraph (of 10) in the cover story reads: "A 2005 consultant's report ranked a site in White Cross in southwestern Orange County as the top location, after Raleigh-Durham International Airport, for housing UNC-CH's medical fleet once Horace Williams Airport closes for construction of the Carolina North satellite campus."
The last line of the Inside story is a quote from Bacon: "'If some of the faculty decided it's not worth the hassle to drive to RDU or wherever [see Irk A - Attrition theme, above], I think we would see some drop off,' he said. 'Until it actually happens it's all theoretical.'"
---Updated: OK, I missed this so edited later to add the following from last paragraph of the cover story: "He [Thorp] holds out the possibility that the Medair fleet could remain at RDU if a new airport does not become available . . . " ---
There are SO many reasons why moving AHEC Medical Flight operations to RDU is the best option, but it's constantly ignored or an afterthought for everyone except conscientious letter-writers and bloggers. Indeed, until and unless there's a move to RDU, it is "all theoretical"; but that doesn't stop airport proponents from using the threat to secure an OC airport more for general aviation use than for AHEC's.