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Business Aviation Helps Apogee Bring Health Care to Remote Areas

Everyone wants to receive the best healthcare possible. But patients whose nearest medical facility is a regional hospital with 200 or fewer beds may not have access to the specialists they need. And the medical knowledge base has expanded so much in recent years that general practitioners cannot be expected to know everything necessary to completely care for a patient.


“ Business aviation has been key to meeting the needs of Apogee Medical Group's clients, which are geographically remote hospitals. ”

Enter "hospitalists," doctors whose focus is to provide specialized in-patient care. These hospital-based medical experts may treat three or four heart attacks a day, whereas a family doctor may only see three or four a year.

One company that has been able to make the hospitalist treatment trend economically viable for smaller medical centers located outside of metropolitan areas is Phoenix based Apogee Medical Group, a five-year-old small business that provides teams of hospitalists to regional facilities in 15 states.

Apogee's owner and founder, Dr. Michael Gregory, says that business aviation has been key to meeting the needs of his clients, which are geographically remote hospitals located in places such as Grants Pass, OR; Marion, IL; and Thomasville, GA.

"Managing a hospitalist program at a facility that you can drive to easily is very different from managing one that requires you to take three airline flights to get there and back," said Gregory. That is why Apogee bought a Hawker 800 two years ago to fly from Scottsdale Airport to a variety of destinations, from coast to coast.

An Aircraft Is an Investment

"I don't look at an airplane as something that costs money, but something that makes money. I consider our airplane the best investment I ever made. With it, we can do more in a single day than our competitors can do in a week."

Gregory, who focuses on Apogee's bottom line so the company's 250 physicians can concentrate on providing excellent specialized healthcare, says that the cost of operating a business aircraft is easy to justify.

"I can spend a few thousand dollars to take a business trip [in order] to gain a few hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Is that worth it? I think so,"Gregory declared. "Hospitalist programs costs hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars [to implement]," he continued."When hospitals ask if we can meet, I show up – not some business development guy, not some marketing person, but the chairman and CEO. We have never made a presentation that did not result in a contract."

After a contract is won, Apogee uses the airplane to support the new hospitalist program."We are hands-on relationship people," said Gregory. "If a customer has a problem, I will get on the airplane and go see them. I am no more than four-and-a-half hours away from any of my customers."

The Hawker also helps Apogee recruit physicians. During a recent trip to New York to interview doctors, a number of candidates told Gregory how impressed they were that the CEO was spending one-on-one time with them.

"Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care," said Gregory. "And nothing says you care like showing up. We get more consideration because we are flexible; we can work around other people's schedules."

Productive and Flexible Travel

Apogee's two full-time flight department members – chief pilot Scott McIntosh and copilot Greg West (shown, left to right) – work 12- to 14-hour duty days, typically flying four days a week.The CEO, who has two young children, does not travel on weekends and tries not to spend more than two nights away per week. "After all, I bought an airplane so I can be home [at night]," said Gregory.

In order to pack as much into a travel day as possible, the Apogee airplane leaves Scottsdale before dawn and returns long after sunset, making multiple stops in between. In fact, Gregory's itinerary is so full that some travel experts find it hard to believe that he can do as much as he does in just one trip. He recently received a call from American Express, which was concerned that his credit card was being used fraudulently. However, Gregory assured the customer-service representative that he had indeed rented cars in four different states in a single day.

Certainly, no other mode of air transportation is as efficient as business flying, and Gregory says the time he spends onboard the company airplane is "tremendously productive. I can enjoy total peace and quiet and focus strategically on the business."

Most important, utilizing a business aircraft enables Gregory to serve his customers well and operate his business efficiently. "We run a nationwide organization with [just] 23 people in our home office and two layers of management. Because we are mobile, the airplane allows me to eliminate an entire layer of management. [But] the greatest thing about having an airplane is its freedom: My business decisions are never encumbered by my inability to go somewhere."

NBAA Provides Value to Small Companies Like Apogee

Apogee officials believe NBAA provides substantial value to small companies. "NBAA is a tremendous source of knowledge and action," said Gregory, who noted how easy it was for him to voice his opposition to proposals for implementing user fees for general aviation through NBAA's online Contact Congress resource (available at www.nbaa.org/userfees).

Chief pilot McIntosh finds NBAA publications and online resources valuable. "If I have a question, the NBAA Management Guide is the first thing I look at," he said. "When I needed a guideline for an ops manual, I went to the NBAA web site and downloaded the information. It seems like every time I have a question, I get the answer from Air Mail or the web site."

McIntosh says he has learned a lot from NBAA Professional Development Program Courses and obtains valuable information from the Maintenance & Operations Sessions held at the NBAA Annual Meeting & Convention.

Going forward, both Gregory and McIntosh are concerned about high fuel prices and the economics of flying. "Are we going to be paying user fees? That's a big question," said McIntosh.

Nevertheless, a second airplane may help Apogee become even more efficient and productive. "I now have senior executives that are doing some things I used to do," said Gregory. "They are managing operations in 15 states across four time zones. It is easier to buy an airplane – and I would argue, cheaper – than it is to find great talent."