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How a health scare changed health care benefits at this Kentucky bank

United Community Bank of West Kentucky took the harrowing experience of one of its employees as an opportunity to improve the benefits it offers.

Last summer, the husband of a United Community employee suffered a traumatic brain injury. The hospital in Morganfield, Ky., a town of 3,300 people, could not offer the specialized care he needed, so he had to be airlifted to Evansville, Ind., about 35 miles away.

Without the helicopter ride from Air Evac, he may not have survived, said his wife Lynda, an office manager at United Community, who asked that her last name not be published.

But, in this case, all ended well.

"My husband and I were given the opportunity to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and attend our son's wedding together," she said.

The Air Evac service did not come cheaply, however.

The average cost of each transport for independent air ambulance programs is $11,086, according to a study released this year by the Association of Air Medical Services, a nonprofit trade association. There are also stories of patients who assumed that such services would be covered by their health insurance, only to find out otherwise.

Because of what happened, United Community, which is one of the banks in our Best Banks to Work For ranking this year, looked into offering air lifts as an employee benefit. Now its employees receive coverage, at no cost to them, through Air Evac, the largest independently owned air ambulance provider in the country.

"We chose to provide this new additional benefit for our employees because it's another way to show them how much we appreciate their commitment and dedication to the bank," said Garland Certain, the president and chief executive at the $241 million-asset bank. "Any free health care benefit is extremely important, especially in today's world."

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Some other local companies provide employees with air ambulance coverage, said Laura Elder, the bank's human resources and marketing officer.

In fact, United Community's board members referred its management team to Air Evac, and the bank pays a group rate available to businesses in its area, said Certain. The rate is $55 per employee per year.

The bank's decision to offer this coverage, which also extends to immediate family members, was appreciated by employees, including Lynda, who said she is grateful that United Community recognized the need.

An estimated 550,000 people are flown by medical helicopters or small airplanes annually for all kinds of emergencies, including heart attacks and hiking accidents, according to the Association of Air Medical Services.

So far, none of the United Community's employees have had to use the benefit, but Certain said the bank is keeping the coverage because it can relieve a great financial burden for a service that might just make all the difference.

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