This year LifeFlight celebrates 20 years of caring for the people of Maine. Over the last two decades, the state’s emergency medical helicopters have touched the lives of more than 25,000 patients and their families. It began back on Sept. 29, 1998 when dispatchers at the central communications center fielded the first request for LifeFlight’s Bangor-based helicopter: a scene call to the remote woods of Hancock County. Less than 2 months later, the Lewiston-based helicopter came online and responded to its first call.
On Monday, Oct. 8, LifeFlight will commemorate its service to a generation of Mainers with a series of dedication ceremonies. LifeFlight and its partner organizations invite the public to join them at each of its three aircraft hangars to tour the helicopters and airplane, visit with the crew, and enjoy refreshments. Leaders from LifeFlight, Northern Light Health (formerly Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), and Central Maine Healthcare will also share a short presentation. The Bangor hangar will be open from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. (speaking presentation at 11 a.m.), the Lewiston hangar from 2pm until 4 p.m. (speaking at 3 p.m.), and the Sanford hangar from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. (speaking at 7 p.m.).
A lot has changed in two decades – rural healthcare providers face enormous financial challenges, medical treatments and technology have changed radically, Maine’s demographics are shifting. The need for LifeFlight continues to grow. LifeFlight has added an airplane and a third helicopter to its fleet, and the organization’s team of critical care specialists has nearly doubled in size. But what has been constant over the last several years is that more and more patients need LifeFlight’s specialized services. The number of requests for critical care transport has steadily increased at a rate of between 5 percent and 11 percent every year.
When LifeFlight was launched in 1998 by Northern Light Health and Central Maine Healthcare, leaders at those organizations understood that a rural state like Maine needed an air ambulance system to move critically ill and injured patients quickly and efficiently. LifeFlight acted as a bridge, connecting patients in rural locations to the care they desperately needed at urban medical centers. Because the system also needed to operate successfully within the economic constraints of Maine, LifeFlight has consistently been among the lowest cost air medical providers in the country.
While still serving as a bridge, over the last several years the organization has added an airplane and a third helicopter to its fleet and established a third base of operations in Sanford. As treatment for conditions like stroke, sepsis and heart attack has evolved, so has the care provided by LifeFlight’s clinical crew and the advanced equipment they carry on every mission. Today, the service LifeFlight provides resembles that of a flying intensive care unit, equipped to bring critical care directly to patients, before transporting them to specialists at large medical centers.
The organization’s green, gold and white aircraft crisscross the state, flying thousands of miles each year from three bases of operation in Bangor, Lewiston and Sanford. LifeFlight’s clinical teams, led by physicians and made up of specially trained critical care nurses and paramedics, care for patients of all ages, from newborn infants to the state’s most senior citizens, who are suffering from every imaginable critical illness or injury.
Now, the organization, together with its partners, is contemplating the best possible way to care for the next generation of Maine’s people, and taking a close look at the challenges, opportunities and needs of critically ill and injured patients. LifeFlight’s success and reputation have been carefully built on a history of providing safe and reliable service of the highest quality, with a focus on ensuring everyone in Maine has access to the critical care they need.
The organization has become an integrated transport system, using helicopters, ground ambulances and an airplane to meet the diverse challenges of Maine’s geography. It has developed a first-of-its-kind partnership with the FAA to establish a statewide, low level instrument flight aviation infrastructure that improves the safety and the reliability of LifeFlight’s missions. To meet the changing needs of the state’s most vulnerable patients, LifeFlight is transforming its workforce to include a broader scope of practice, and works with a statewide clinical practice committee to implement state-of-the-art medical technology.
By taking these steps, LifeFlight is preparing to meet challenges like Maine’s aging population, a shrinking healthcare workforce, and the continued regionalization of specialized care. Overcoming these challenges will be necessary to achieve LifeFlight’s stated vision of a place where every person, in every community, has access to the critical care and medical transport they need, when they need it.
LifeFlight of Maine is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit air medical and critical care transport organization. LifeFlight brings lifesaving critical care staff and equipment directly to the patient by helicopter, airplane and ground ambulance. It also provides advanced emergency medical training to Maine’s hospitals, emergency medical services (EMS) and public safety agencies. Overseen by 25 physicians, LifeFlight cared for more than 2,100 critically ill and injured patients last year. Since its inception in 1998, LifeFlight has transported more than 25,000 patients from every hospital and nearly all of Maine’s communities and islands. If you would like to learn more about LifeFlight, please visit the website www.lifeflightmaine.org or call 207-230-7092.