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Rule Change Lets WakeMed Pursue Helicopter Service

POSTED: 6:57 am EST March 30, 2005
UPDATED: 7:00 am EST March 30, 2005

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A major victory for Wake County's largest hospital could mean faster medical service for Raleigh and much of Eastern North Carolina.

But A state rule that prevented Wake Med from acquiring a helicopter has now been changed. What some call a monopoly of the Triangle sky could be broken up.

Here at WakeMed, hospital officials are preparing to fly. Right now, only Duke and UNC provide medical air service in the Triangle.

But, state officials changed a rule that banned two air ambulances from operating within 60 miles of each other.

Duke and UNC never had to obey the code because they were grand-fathered in.

"If I'm in Wendell, Zebulon, Wake Forest (then) 4 to 5 minutes can be the difference between life and death and to have a helicopter over at WakeMed, that would save their life," said Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears.

Sears joined other area leaders to try to get the rules changed.

"If all 12 mayors get together and say the same thing at the same time, then people listen, and that's exactly what happened," Sears said.

WakeMed administrator Stan Taylor says there were more than 680 patients this past year who would have been better off if WakeMed had picked them up in a helicopter instead of an ambulance.

"Projections are that we will soon be the largest county in the state, yet we still don't have this service," Taylor said.

But while the code change is a done deal, the helicopter is not.

WakeMed must prove to the state it's a level one trauma center and that there's sufficient need in Wake County for a helicopter.

UNC declined comment; Duke's position is that Wake County is already covered by Duke and UNC.

A Duke official said that Duke has offered to airlift patients to WakeMed but WakeMed turned that offer down.

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