Intermountain Healthcare purchases Classic Air Medical to bolster rural care, telehealth services

Intermountain Healthcare has agreed to purchase medical air transport company Classic Air Medical in a move to reinforce its rural care services and extend telehealth capabilities.

Announced yesterday, the transaction is set to close by summer 2021. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The not-for-profit health system said it intends to keep Classic independent from its existing Intermountain Life Flight air medical program and also plans to maintain Classic’s leadership and roughly 400 employees.

“The services provided by Classic augment our ability to care for people in an affordable and convenient way,” Rob Allen, senior vice president and CEO of Intermountain, said in a statement. “With a relentless focus on improving value-based care, especially in rural areas, Intermountain and Classic will help make air medical transportation more accessible.”

Salt Lake City-based Intermountain’s shares much of its coverage area with North Salt Lake, Utah-based Classic.

The latter operates 28 aircraft with 22 bases largely housed in eight western U.S. states, ranging as far south as Arizona and New Mexico and as far north as Idaho and Alaska. It completed about 5,000 flights in 2020.

Intermountain Life Flight, meanwhile, owns and operates 10 aircraft out of seven bases across Utah. As such, the health system said that this acquisition will allow it to better serve patients living in rural communities across the Intermountain West region of the country.

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Of particular note, the announcement emphasized the role medical air transport services can play in providing comprehensive virtual care services via telehealth and other digital tools.

“For example, as caregivers in rural hospitals and clinics use telehealth, they may determine that patients need higher acuity, more specialized care,” Intermountain wrote in its announcement. “Classic makes it easier to transport those patients to the nearest medical facilities that are best equipped to care for them.”

Per the announcement, Classic will continue to serve its existing communities and will maintain relationships with its partner requesting agencies—albeit with the support of a large care organization partner and its digital infrastructure.

“We’re excited to join with Intermountain to continue to serve patients and communities in our service areas, and ensure they have access to high-value, coordinated care as close to home as possible,” said Tony Henderson, CEO of Classic, in a statement. “Joining with Intermountain allows us to further enhance our capabilities by adding telehealth access and digital solutions developed by Intermountain to better serve patients.”

The acquisition announcement comes amid another major investment for Intermountain. Last week, the system unveiled a $50 million partnership with the University of Utah to build new care models focused on preemptively addressing the causes of patient illnesses, such as social determinants of health.

The news also straddles the past year’s growing interest in telehealth technologies, and particularly as a means of improving rural care services. Government organizations like the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have all sought to bolster hospitals’ telehealth capabilities through grant programs , reimbursement and other joint initiatives aimed at delivering virtual care to hard-to-reach patients.

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