Working to keep emergency air ambulances going

When a disaster or emergency occurs, we are often left hoping for a miracle or help from a first responder. In hard-to reach communities or extreme situations, air ambulances often provide both.
Air ambulance helicopters and planes are there to respond to every California disaster, from car crashes to record-breaking wildfires. However, the future of air ambulances will be in jeopardy if we do not take action soon. That is why I authored legislation this year to ensure we do not lose this vital emergency assistance.

Air ambulance services are incredibly expensive, and the vast majority of them are provided by private entities that do not receive local tax support. Because often times those who receive this lifesaving emergency help cannot afford to pay their entire medical bill, California currently offers supplemental funding to air ambulances. This is achieved through a special fund passed years ago known as the Emergency Medical Air Transportation Act.

The problem is that this act is set to expire on Dec. 31, throwing the future of air ambulances into jeopardy.

Since his first day in office, Gov. Gavin Newsom has prioritized bolstering California’s emergency preparedness and response. I applaud this effort and recognize how timely his actions are.

In 2017, our state experienced more than 30 federally declared disasters. Last year, we had another 17. Only two months ago, the governor declared a state of emergency for two counties after multiple, large-magnitude earthquakes.

It is hard to fathom the additional tragedy that could have occurred if we had not had air ambulances operating in our recent devastating wildfires. During the Carr Fire in Redding, air ambulances transported injured firefighters and evacuated hospitals that were at risk – including an entire neonatal unit where newborns and their mothers were receiving critical care. Air ambulances have again been responding to wildfires this year, as more than 50,000 acres have already burned through our state.

Last year, I authored legislation that would have provided a long-term funding source for air ambulance services. Despite this effort receiving unanimous support from both houses of the Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown ultimately vetoed it.

It is simply not an option to allow funding for these services to expire, which is why I am continuing my efforts with Assembly Bill 651. This bill will extend funding for air ambulances through the Emergency Medical Transportation Act until July 2020, instead of letting the act expire this year.

About 70 emergency air ambulance helicopters and airplanes serve our state, and AB 651 will allow them to continue to cover nearly 164,000 square miles and serve all Californians in their time of need.

I am committed to crafting legislation to ensure there is a dedicated, long-term funding source for these emergencies services. But in the meantime, we need to pass AB 651 for the 39 million residents who will be left without a safety net if no action is taken.

We have a broad coalition of support advocating for the bill’s passage, including first responders, hospitals and legislators across the state, but we could use your voice. If you want to support this bill or share your thoughts on any issue important to you, call my Concord District Office at 925-521-1511.