ANAHEIM : Air Ambulance Returns to County

Though he has clearance to curb it on the freeways, Jack Delahanty sometimes still has trouble finding a place to park.

With every minute crucial to his passengers, the 44-year-old air ambulance pilot from Yorba Linda doesn’t have time to squander looking for a spot. Locating a 75-by-75-foot space from 500 feet at night while avoiding trees and electrical wires during a medical emergency can be a formidable challenge--even for a Vietnam combat helicopter veteran, who now is a pilot for Mercy Air Services Inc.

Mercy Air, a privately owned air ambulance company, returned to Orange County last month, re-establishing itself as the only such service in the county.

Mercy Air left the county last year because of an insurance dispute with state authorities.


The state Department of Health Services last year slashed Medi-Cal reimbursements for air ambulance transportation by 60%, which dealt a serious financial blow to many medical helicopter operators.

After Mercy Air began operating out of Rialto Airport, 12 minutes from the Orange County line, county fire departments reported rarely calling on the air ambulance service.

But Mercy Air streamlined its operations over the past year, buying cost-efficient helicopters. The move allowed it to open a new base at the North Net Training Center, across from Anaheim Stadium. It formerly operated from UCI Medical Center in Orange.

“We’re glad to be back in Orange County,” said Mary Davis, a Mercy Air spokeswoman. “Orange County is so densely populated, our ships are definitely being used there.”


In July, Mercy Air’s copter flew into action, parking in the Alpha Beta shopping center at Brookhurst Street and Ball Road to airlift a seriously injured teen-ager to a trauma center after a two-car collision.

“There (are) a lot of short bursts of high stress,” said Jody Haynes, a Mercy Air flight nurse.

The crew, consisting of pilot, nurse and paramedic, can be dressed in flight gear and en route to an accident scene within five minutes of receiving a call. A crew may handle up to seven calls in a 24-hour shift.

The minutes saved by air transport can mean the difference between life and death, medical officials say. Depending on traffic and distance, the helicopter can shave 15 to 20 minutes off the time it would take an ambulance to take a patient to a medical facility.


“The faster we can get a patient to surgery,” said Tim Smith, a 27-year-old Mercy Air flight medic, “the more likely it is there will be a positive outcome.”

In addition to rescuing accident victims, Mercy Air’s missions also involve patient transfers between medical facilities and transporting medical teams.

Mercy Air uses a Bell 222-U helicopter, which has a top speed of 173 m.p.h. The craft can carry two patients and a three-person crew and can fly up to 400 nautical miles.