Completing close to 30,000 patient missions by helicopter since 1981, Mercy Flight, a not-for-profit organization, continues to provide critical care medical transportation to all of Western New York.
“Everyone knows that rapid, high-quality transport from the scene of a serious illness or injury to an appropriate healthcare facility is crucial for optimal patient outcomes,” said Elaine Duquette, director of marketing for Mercy Flight, “but equally as important is a rapid response to the scene of that illness or injury. Both of these can be particularly challenging in rural areas, where travel distances are long and EMS resources can be scarce,” said Duquette
“Since returning to our ground ambulance roots in Batavia in 2009 we’ve performed countless ground ambulance patient missions,” said Duquette.
The mission – to be an independent, not-for-profit provider of emergency air medical transport and support services, ensuring rapid, safe, and cost-effective delivery of expert emergency response personnel, patients, medical specialty teams, organs, and medical supplies and equipment – allows Mercy Flight to execute its vision of - aiding all persons in need within the service areas to have access to the best possible medical-directed transportation.
With a fleet of four state-of-the-art Bell 429 helicopters, 20 ground ambulances, four paramedic fly cars, and more than 200 employees, the ability to reach all coverage areas stems from convenient and intentional locations of the helicopter bases in Batavia, Buffalo, Olean, and Springville. Mercy Flight is the primary air ambulance for all eight Western New York counties, including Genesee, Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Orleans, Allegheny, and Wyoming. With the majority of ground ambulance services conducted out of the Batavia base, Mercy Flight also covers parts of northwestern Pennsylvania from their Olean base.
The medical team, both on board the helicopter ambulance and in the ground ambulances, is operated by a team of medical professionals who are trained to respond efficiently in an emergency. Each helicopter ambulance is equipped with a pilot, a flight paramedic, and a flight nurse. Ground ambulances are staffed depending on the level of care needed - Advanced Life Support ambulances are staffed with a paramedic, an EMT, or an A/EMT, while Basic Life Support ambulances are staffed with a pair of EMTs or A/EMTs
“Mercy Flight is committed to providing the best possible, cost-effective, compassionate medical care to all of Western New York, regardless of our patients’ ability to pay,” said Duquette. “We strive to be mission-ready and able to respond to every corner of our service area as quickly as possible, so the lifesaving measures initiated by local first responders and regional hospital partners can be continued and even enhanced by our healthcare professionals, if necessary.”
With setbacks arising throughout the pandemic, Mercy Flight’s mission has been met with regulations as a result of the ever-changing procedures and protocols as Covid-19 guidelines and restrictions continue to develop.
“Like many, we have found ourselves expanding and adjusting our protocols to elevate the safety of our patients and crews due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The duties of our crews have become much more difficult due to frequent donning and doffing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and enhanced decontamination efforts,” said Duquette. “Because we are the first point of contact with medical care for most of our patients, they have not yet been tested for or diagnosed with COVID-19, so for their safety as much as ours, we have to treat every patient as if they have the virus. It’s been a physical, mental, and emotional challenge, and we are immensely proud of how our providers have met and continue to meet the changing face of this pandemic head-on.”
Since 2020, Mercy Flight experienced both a decrease and influx of calls. First a decrease in calls when the lockdown was imposed, starting in March 2020, and then an influx in demand throughout 2021 so far compared to 2020.
Headquartered at its Buffalo base, located on the former grounds of Flying Tigers Restaurant, adjacent to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Amherst Villa Road, Mercy Flight’s Communication Center is also housed at this location. The Communication Center dispatches every ambulance and helicopter.
Headquarters also houses the Aircraft Maintenance Department, which services the Bell 429 helicopters; the administrative team that oversees education; QI; HR; IT; development; accounting; finance and more.
As Mercy Flight approaches its 40th year of service, it will also complete its 30,000 air ambulance mission.
“…Which is incredible when you consider how many individuals and their families have been impacted by our efforts to save lives and improve outcomes,” said Duquette.
Saving lives with lifesaving measures, Mercy Flight will soon celebrate its 40th anniversary, Sunday, Sept. 19.
To celebrate, Mercy Flight will host its annual BASH event from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25 at Buffalo RiverWorks. During the event, Mercy Flight will be recognized for its achievements during the last four decades.
“We perform our lifesaving services without regard to our patients’ insurance status or ability to pay, and we have a robust Charity Care program for our patients that do not have the means to pay their bills. While the 24/7 service we provide is expensive to operate and maintain, the average out-of-pocket for our patients in 2020 was less than $200. Certainly, this can vary significantly based on the insurance plan that our patient subscribes to, but the compassion with which we provide patient care extends to our billing and collections process as well, and we have a “do no harm” policy in that regard,” said Duquette.
She continued, “While third party payors reimburse us for a portion of each flight’s true cost, we still rely heavily on additional funding from individual contributors, corporate donations, community fundraisers, and community grants. These funds help us bridge the sometimes-significant gap between what it costs for us to provide our service and the reimbursement we receive from government and other payors.”
For more information
To learn more about Mercy Flight, contact Duquette at (716) 626-4100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mercy Flight website is https://www.mercyflight.org.