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Clearbrook native expands air medical service company in Grand Forks

Ben Dorman started Valley Med Flight, a local air ambulance service, that is based in Grand Forks. Eric Hylden | Forum News Service

John Hageman

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A young air medical service company based in Grand Forks has plans to expand.

Launched in 2010 with the goal of reducing the time patients wait for care, Valley Med Flight was acquired in September by Air Medical Resource Group, a Utah-based company that owns seven other air ambulance companies, according to Valley Med President Ben Dorman, who grew up in Clearbrook, Minn., about 40 miles northwest of Bemidji.

Dorman said that allows the company to access more financial resources than it would on its own and grow more quickly.

The company now has four stations in three states, employing about 45 pilots, medical personnel and maintenance workers, but that number will grow. Valley Med plans to add three stations in the near future, which will mean about 25 new employees in the next year, Dorman said.

Faster transport

Dorman, who became an emergency room nurse at Altru Health System in 2006 after working for an ambulance company in Oklahoma, said it was immediately clear that there was a need for faster transportation in sparsely populated areas of North Dakota and northern Minnesota.

“It was taking us hours to get critical patients out of Altru Hospital,” said Dorman. “And I know a lot of the other hospitals in the area were dealing with the same issues.”

Valley Med’s crews can get in the air within 30 minutes of receiving a call for service, Dorman said. That means it takes them less than an hour to get to Devils Lake, which previously had to rely on air service from Fargo.

“Any time that you can increase the speed in which somebody is getting to definitive care, it benefits patient outcomes,” Dorman said.

Dorman said most of the flights at the local station come from communities surrounding Grand Forks, with about half of those flights coming to Altru. The other half is made up of flights going to hospitals in Rochester, Minn., or the Twin Cities, both of which have Level I trauma centers.

“It’s a great advantage to have the services of Valley Med Flight readily available for patients needing transfer to another facility, instead of having to wait for a plane to come to Grand Forks,” Art Culver, manager of ambulance services at Altru Health System, said in an email.

Valley Med has “first call” agreements with many of the hospitals in their service areas, but those agreements don’t stipulate financial arrangements. He said much of their revenue comes in the form of insurance reimbursements.


Valley Med Flight is located in the Flight Support building at Grand Forks International Airport. But in January, the company will move into its own hangar there.

It also will add several helicopters to its fleet. For now, the company has only one helicopter at its Williston station to go along with six Pilatus PC-12 planes.

Valley Med has four stations that each serve about a 150-mile radius — Grand Forks, Williston, Sidney, Mont., and Iron Mountain, Mich. — with its maintenance hub based in Grand Forks.

“When you have your own in-house maintenance, it saves on having to move (planes),” Dorman said.

Dorman said there are plans to add three more stations — one fixed-wing and two rotor bases — in the next year. However, he declined to say where those stations may be.

“It’s very exciting,” he said.

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