Last month, a terrible accident occurred in our area that reminded us of the importance of quick access to the best possible medical care.

Last month, a terrible accident occurred in our area that reminded us of the importance of quick access to the best possible medical care. However, one key component of our care system is at risk, and everyone who loves the North Florida way of life should be concerned.

The accident occurred at a festival in Apalachicola, where people were injured when a ride suffered a mechanical failure. One of the victims had extensive injuries and needed to be flown out by an emergency air medical to a hospital in Tallahassee – a trip that would have taken significantly longer had emergency air medical services not been available.

North Florida’s vast expanses of rural land are a true natural wonder, offering limitless pleasures to those who don’t like the size and pace of city life. But country living also carries some challenges, and an important one is a limited ability to get to a hospital quickly.

That injured festival-goer was just one example of how emergency air medical service is a life-saving resource that must remain available. It may be a nice option for the big cities, but it’s absolutely critical for the small communities that define most of North Florida.

Florida has just 33 trauma centers verified by the state, and the nearest are in Pensacola or Panama City – over an hour away … if traffic cooperates. An hour can make all the difference for trauma victims, and helicopters aren’t delayed by slow drivers or clogged highways.

I have spent my life advocating for consumers and the public interest, including service on the board of the Consumer Federation of America. I recognize how important it is for my North Florida neighbors to support emergency air medical services that keep our communities safe by reducing the travel time between an accident and a hospital.

I’m grateful this service was available to help the young man injured last month, and that’s why I am proud to support these services, especially for rural areas. The organization Save Our Air Medical Resources (SOAR) is a national effort to preserve access to emergency air medical services, opposing issues that threaten accessible emergency air medical. That includes the problem of profoundly low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, which are causing more providers to stop offering emergency air medical service.

The holiday season is filled with risk – traffic fatalities jump by 25 percent at Christmas and 50 percent at New Year’s. Thousands of Americans seek emergency room treatment for falls associated with holiday decorations. Even workplace injuries spike during the holidays.

Rural and remote areas aren’t exempt from these patterns. When every minute counts, it’s essential that residents have the quickest possible access to the right care. Emergency air medical service can help prevent a senseless tragedy that would forever mar the holiday season, and everyone should be aware of the dangers we will all face if this service goes away.

Walt Dartland is a North Florida resident and lifelong consumer advocate who previously served as Deputy Attorney General and Miami-Dade Consumer Advocate.