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Two Hospitals In Dogfight For Bigger, Better Helicopters

November 15, 1985

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) _ An airborne rivalry between two hospitals has sparked a local radio spoof called ″Hospitalwolf″ and complaints that the town isn’t big enough to support half the medical helicopters in Michigan.

Borgess Medical Center and Bronson Methodist Hospital, two highly competitive hospitals in this southwestern Michigan city of 78,000 people, last week each announced plans to replace their choppers with bigger, faster ones.

″It’s one-upmanship,″ said Judith Rayman, executive director of the Southwest Michigan Health Systems Agency, a regional planning agency. ″This one-on-one competition results in higher costs for health care.

″It’s great public relations to have helicopters buzzing over the city, saving lives, bringing more patients to the hospital.″

But hospital officials insist the helicopters are useful health-care tools, not expensive public-relations gimmicks.

″We’re not just dropping money for flash,″ said Arthur Littlefield, head of Careflite Inc., Bronson’s helicopter subsidiary. ″This is a technology that has been developed. ″You can’t ignore it. This is a good way to treat patients.″

Borgess announced its plans for a helicopter service first last year, but Bronson beat its rival into the sky by leasing the first helicopter in October 1984. Borgess followed suit shortly afterward.

Last week, they said they would replace their small, single-engine choppers on Jan. 1 with twin-engine craft.

″The primary justification for a larger helicopter is patient service,″ said Borgess spokesman Blaine Lam. ″It is very important to note that we planned to have a twin-engine helicopter from the very beginning.″

The Michigan Department of Public Health lists only two other medical helicopter services in the state, one at University of Michigan Hospitals in Ann Arbor and by Detroit police.

Bronson last year projected its annual costs for the service at $400,000 to $500,000 plus costs associated with staffing. Borgess inititally estimated its costs at $1 million annually.

The latest controversy sparked a spoof last week by WKZO-AM, which ran a two-part soap opera called ″Hospitalwolf,″ after television’s ″Airwolf.″

″In one of them, a housewife cut her finger on a can of tomato soup, and she looked out her window and saw the leaves blowing around,″ said Stan Smart, station manager. ″It ended with her daughter saying, ‘But Mommy, do we really need two helicopters?’

″We really wanted to have fun with it and not get the hospitals upset. Most of the phone calls were favorable. We did hear from one of the hospitals’ PR departments, and they were not laughing.″

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