Foundation hits $4 million fundraising goal for new ALERT helicopter

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Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation has successfully raised the $4 million necessary to replace an aging helicopter for ALERT, the hospital’s nonprofit air ambulance service that transports more than 300 patients per year.

“With the evolution of the pediatrics program at KRMC and adult patients coming from farther and farther away, we need our air ambulances, both rotor and fixed wing, more than ever,” Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation President Tagen Vine said in a prepared statement.

A few years ago the old helicopter, purchased in 2000, started needing more frequent maintenance and in 2016, the machine couldn’t take missions for 105 days due to much-needed repairs that came with a $200,000 price tag.

When services like ALERT are out of service, residents are forced to turn to costly alternatives, but utilizing these other, often-private helicopter companies can be costly. In 2016 alone, the State Auditor’s Office received 30 complaints from people who received bills as high as $100,000 for air ambulance flights.

ALERT — Advanced Life-Support Emergency Rescue Team — plans on keeping the old helicopter for backup, should the new one have to undergo regular or irregular maintenance. Vine said this will assure ALERT services are continually available.

The new helicopter, a Bell 407GXP, has taken the place of the team’s 407 helicopter, which continues to go out on hundreds of rescue missions a year despite being 18 years old. The new helicopter appears similar on the outside, but the inside control system is much more high-tech, featuring electronic cockpit controls and more.

And while securing finances for the new helicopter closed one funding chapter, it opened another.

“With the conclusion of this important campaign for ALERT, we begin saving for the next helicopter that may be needed in 10 years,” Vine stated.

Vine said while about half of the $4 million needed for this helicopter was secured between April 2017 and April 2018, the rest of the money was raised over the course of many years, many donors and many banquets — the next of which is scheduled for April 21, 2019.

“We should start planning now,” Vine said. “This is the heads-up to keep coming to the banquets and continue being generous so we can keep this program going for a long time.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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