By Deb Murphy

There’s a discouraging cliché that no good turn goes unpunished. Mike Patterson of Sierra Lifeflight found that out this week when the agency formed to assist emergency medical services in San Bernardino, Inyo and Mono counties nearly put the brakes on the air ambulance service’s attempt to help out Southern Inyo Hospital after losing its emergency room physicians.


When SIH lost its emergency physicians, Sierra Lifeflight stepped in with Patterson bringing a paramedic and nurse from the company’s Bishop home base to Lone Pine. The idea was to provide emergency services no longer available in Southern Inyo since the ambulances provided by volunteer fire departments in Independence, Lone Pine and Olancha were only staffed with EMTs. The company regularly flies patients needing advanced care from both Northern Inyo and Southern Inyo hospitals.

Since the situation wasn’t covered in Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency 449 page protocol manual, EMS Administrator Tom Lynch told Patterson he couldn’t fly his fixed wing airplane out of Lone Pine. Patterson told his story, hoping for help, at Tuesday’s Inyo County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Following a conference call with ICEMA staff, Patterson and Supervisor Matt Kingsley last Friday, the decision was reached that Sierra Lifeflight could fly out of Lone Pine, but the agency would have to come up with a protocol. It did, but Patterson told the Supervisors it was too restrictive. “We added our paramedics to Lone Pine (Volunteer Fire Department’s) roster,” Patterson said. “There were no regulations that restricted what we’re doing, but ICEMA is trying to put one in place. It’s a roadblock.”

The new Transport Policy, applying only to Inyo County, complicates an already complex situation, even drawing a line at the Cottonwood Creek Bridge so EMS providers know whether the patient goes to Northern Inyo or Ridgecrest Regional hospital.

Patterson addressed the Board during the public comment period designated for items not on the meeting agenda. Questions directed to Patterson were put to a stop by County Counsel Margaret Kemp-Williams. Lone Pine resident Earl Wilson suggested a special meeting to avoid Brown Act nuances.

“We need to continue to get ICEMA on board,” Kingsley said, volunteering himself and Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio to continue those discussions before the board resorted to a special meeting.

The SIH Board is working to re-open the hospital’s Emergency Room but has work to do before the closure plan filed with the state can be rescinded.

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