SANTA ROSA, MARIN COUNTY - Sonoma County-based Reach Air Medical Services opened a new southern California base this month, signaling the first of extended plans to double the company's presence during the next few years.

"I believe we are growing at the rate we are now because from the beginning we have considered ourselves a health care company before an aviation company," said Reach Chief Executive Officer Jim Adams.

"We are certainly under the same pressures as the rest of the health care industry, but I think because we were such a resilient company in good economic times, we have been able to remain strong in a weak economy."

The new base in the Riverside County city of Thermal opened July 16 and will quickly be followed by the company's first-ever Texas location slated for completion in October. The newest site includes space in an existing hangar for maintenance and storage of the vehicle and plans are in the works to build employee quarters and office space. Currently, staff is stationed in a mobile building.

Launched in 1987, Reach grew slowly in its first decade, adding just two centers up until the late '90s. Mr. Adams joined the company in 2001 and led the opening of eight new centers over the past eight years, reaching as far north as Oregon and down into the southern area of the state.

Currently, the company has 20 aircraft, including helicopters and airplanes, and about 350 staff. Mr. Adams said his goal is to add about three new bases a year for the next three to five years. Though he anticipates growth will be mostly organic, acquisition could be an option with the right company.

Marin OKs third transport firm

Meanwhile, after about six months of discussion, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved the permit of a third medical transport company, and this summer Castro Valley-based Norcal Ambulance opened a dispatch in San Rafael. The company will provide 24-hour on-call service, though not for 9-1-1 responses.

The provider offers primarily life support and critical care transport between medical facilities in the county, and though it does not currently contract with any local facilities, Norcal can provide service to organizations contracted with other providers.

Currently, St. Joseph's Ambulance Service and American Medical Response also provide transport in Marin.