Life Flight Network adapts to new technology and medical practices
In 1978, when the Life Flight Network first began, it was called Emanuel Life Flight as part of the Emanuel Hospital. With a small crew and a single base, it was just one of four hospital-based ambulances in the nation.
From size to technology, a lot has changed for the not-for-profit in the last 40 years.
When it first began, Life Flight Network was the only of its kind in the west and served just a small area. Now, the network has 23 different base locations in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.
Before 2007, the network remained part of a hospital structure. Now, the nation's largest not-for-profit air service is owned by a consortium of Oregon Health & Science University, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and Providence Health & Services.
As the western half of the United States continues to grow, so does the need for life flight transportation, said Life Flight Network Regional Director Jacob Dalstra. Compared to the 121 transports a year in 178, Dalstra said each of the bases now transport on average one critically ill person per day. Even then, he said some days are filled with transports and others have very few.
"With emergencies, you can't place a number — you just never know," Dalstra said.
In an effort to make the process smoother for the ill person and transport crew, the network released a smart phone app in late May. The app, LFN Respond, helps hospitals and first responders call for air transport in minutes with the touch of a button on their phone. The hospital or first responder sends their GPS coordinates for the pickup of the critically ill person, and flightcraft will dispatch within approximately seven minutes Dalstra said.
"With LFN Respond, approved hospital and emergency responders can instantly request a Life Flight Network aircraft by tapping the flight call button in the app, sending vital information and GPS location directly to dispatch personnel at our Communications Center," said Life Flight Network CEO Michael Griffiths. "LFN Respond saves precious seconds and makes calling for air ambulance transport easier for hospitals and first responder teams working to save lives."
Life Flight Network operates helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Dalstra said helicopters operate within 175-mile radius.
Life Flight Network has about 600 employees, Dalstra said. Fit with three responders per aircraft — a pilot, a medic and a nurse — life flight first responders at each base are on call 24 hours a day.
However, advances in response time, technology, frequency and medicine come at a cost.
"We're part of the two most expensive industries around: aviation and medicine," Dalstra said. "We're a not-for-profit, but our Helicopters are multimillion dollar machines, and they're all fit with expensive monitors, ventilators and drugs."
On average, an air ambulance bill can reach upwards of $20,000 factoring in medical treatment, fuel, mileage and other costs.
Dalstra said memberships to the Life Flight Network help support the not-for-profit's operations. As part of its 40-year anniversary, the network is offering $40 memberships until September 3. Memberships are usually $65.
"It gives people a piece of mind that if them or their loved ones need to be transported, they can do that without first worrying about the cost," Dalstra said.
Holly Ilg, an air medic, said her daily work often changes because of the constant advances in medicine and technology.
"I love being out in the field," Ilg said. "Life Flight really is on the cutting edge of medicine and that's where I want to be."
One thing that hasn't changed, Dalstra said, is the Life Flight Network's mission.
"We go to chaotic scenes where people are having the most horrific day," Dalstra said. "We just aim to be the best part of their worst day."