Tom and Dana Saputo sit in their backyard with their three dogs. Tom Saputo's double-lung transplant was fully covered by insurance, but he was responsible for an $11,524.79 portion of the charge for an air ambulance ride.
Visitors and park rangers at historic Fort Scott check out a medevac helicopter operated by Midwest AeroCare during the Kansas town's Good Ol' Days festival.
Sarah Jane Tribble/Kaiser Health News
In rugged, rural areas, patients often have little choice about how they'll get to the hospital in an emergency. "The presence of private equity in the air ambulance industry indicates that investors see profit opportunities," a 2017 report from the federal Government Accountability Office notes.
Robert Findley died after falling on the ice during a winter storm this February in Fort Scott, Kan. Mercy Hospital had recently closed, so he had to be flown to a neurology center 90 miles north in Kansas City, Mo.
Christopher Smith for Kaiser Health News
In many rural areas, helicopters are the only speedy way to get patients to a trauma center or hospital burn unit. As more than 100 rural hospitals have closed around the U.S. since 2010, the need for air transport has only increased.
"The biggest challenge for me was to see how I would be a father again," says Dr. Naveed Khan, who was injured while driving an all-terrain vehicle. "With two able-bodied parents at home, it was easier."
Shelby Knowles for NPR