HORNELL — The skies over the region just got a little more friendly.

At a meeting of the City of Hornell's Quality of Life Committee on Tuesday, management from LifeNet of New York, an often life-saving medical transport helicopter service with a base in Hornell, revealed a major overhaul in how it does business and advocates for its patients. 

"We want to ingrain ourselves into the communities we service, and most of our staff are from the local community," said Kobie Brooks, area manager for Air Methods. 

LifeNet of New York's parent company Air Methods was founded in Grand Junction Colo. in 1980, and has come a long way from its beginnings as a simple transport company. Today, Air Methods employs 5,000 people at over 300 bases in 48 states, and logs 100,000 flight hours a year.

All helicopters are dispatched from a call center Omaha, Neb., the home of the nation's national air defense infrastructure. In New York, Air Methods has 10 bases. 

The Hornell base serves an area stretching from Monroe County south to Tioga and Potter counties in Pennsylvania, and areas west from Olean to Watkins Glen to the east. 

The 24 hour, 7 days a week staff includes a pilot, critical care nurse or paramedic, medical directors, maintenance and regional personnel. 

"Safety is absolutely paramount for us," said Bryce Rowles, Regional Business Development manager for Air Methods. 

In the last three months, LifeNet has sought to clear up mis-perceptions about the costs of their services, officials said.

"We came to realize we were doing it all wrong initially," Rowles said. "We ran into some situations where we could have cared for folks better after their incident, now we are."

Often the first communication with the service recipient was an invoice for the full amount before insurance coverage was factored in.

"It wasn't uncommon for people to see a $50,000 or $60,000 bill, but you won't see that anymore," Rowles explained.

Today, the company focuses more on patient advocacy, walking patients through the process of an insurance claim. Customers will no longer get bills prior to closed insurance cases.

The average cost of a flight is $10,200, according to company figures. However, out of pocket expenses are usually far less.

"The average out of pocket costs are a few hundred dollars or less," Rowles detailed. In once case, the cost was just $57.

Of those costs, Medicaid reimburses the company $3,500 on average, Medicare pays out $6,000 and private insurances typically covers an average of $26,000 in costs for "medically necessary" cases.

In 2016, 43 of 80 Hornell area patients saw no out of pocket costs when their account was closed, and the average among those who did experience a cost was $320, the company said.

LifeNet often takes the money they can get.

"The only time that someone gets set to collections is when someone pockets the insurance checks that are supposed to go to the provider," Rowles said. "At the end of the day, if you have to pay anything, it's going to be what you can afford."

The company has recently invested $100 million in aircraft and equipment upgrades ranging from night vision goggles for pilots, to advanced navigation tools. The company is highly regulated and regarded by the FAA for safety, garnering a level 4 ranking for safety management systems. 

The company also sets benchmarks for quality of care, receiving Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS) accreditation, and participating in industry think tanks. 

Patients in the Hornell base's service area are taken to two centers for care: Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, a level one trauma center, or to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa, a level two trauma center. 

"For us, the goal is to get the patients to the closest available, most appropriate hospital," Brooks said. 

From the Hornell area, most will be transported to Rochester. 

Helicopters are called on in only the most severe cases, where saving time can save a life, or when a necessary level of care is unavailable. Strokes, heart attacks and trauma are primary examples. 

"We offer a service typically not found on the ground, which is a nurse and paramedic team for critical care," Rowles said.

Delivery and transfers of severe cases requiring more than 30 minutes on the road are usually prime candidates for a helicopter ride. 

In addition to the services provided, LifeNet participates in many community outreach activities. Brooks and Rowles encouraged community groups to get in touch with them for activities. 

"We invite all of you to participate with a church group, or Girl Scouts, or Boy Scouts and bring the kids up. We want them to be interested in this field," Brooks, the area manager, said.