Air Ambulance Provider, Life Flight Network, Fills Critical Role in COVID-19 Patient Care as Cases Surge

Dec 31, 2020

As the recent surge of COVID-19 cases strains rural and urban hospital capacity across the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West, Life Flight Network is playing a critical role in the regional healthcare system response and ensuring COVID-19 patients have access to specialty care. Since the start of the pandemic, Life Flight Network has provided critical care transport for nearly 600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout its service region. In total, Life Flight Network has utilized full infectious disease protocols for nearly 1,300 transports, due to the presence of COVID-like symptoms. Life Flight Network provides ICU-level care, including ventilator support when needed, throughout the transport.

Balancing Care Across the Region

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout the region has remained at peak levels since the start of December. In rural areas with limited acute care beds or great distances to reach a hospital, Life Flight Network is partnering with first responders and community hospitals to transport patients that need ICU-level care during transport.

A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis shows metropolitan areas have nearly twice the number of ICU beds per capita compared to non-metro areas. KFF also notes rural areas tend to have older populations with higher rates of pre-existing conditions, which puts a greater share of the population at risk for serious complications from COVID-19. As ICU beds fill up in communities throughout the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West, transporting patients to hospitals with available beds is critical to saving lives.

“This year has required health care workers across the region to come together to respond to this unprecedented public health crisis,” said Michael Griffiths, CEO of Life Flight Network. “Working alongside first responders, doctors, and nurses in every part of the region, we’ll continue to do our part for as long as we’re needed.”

Life Flight Network’s Specialized Response Effort

Life Flight Network was ready, willing, and able to transport COVID-19 patients from the start of the pandemic, transporting its first suspected COVID-19 patient on March 1, 2020. Utilizing longstanding infectious disease protocols, Life Flight Network has helped ensure the safety of its crews.  In addition to head-to-toe PPE (N95 mask, eye protection, gown, gloves, etc.) for every crew member, Life Flight Network decontaminates the entire aircraft or ambulance and its mobile ICU unit after each transport carrying a potential COVID-19 patient. Life Flight Network has also developed a “COVID-19 Transport Checklist” to ensure the aircraft and ambulances are in condition for transport and has required crews to go through additional PPE training to safely don and doff PPE.

Each Life Flight Network helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft, and ICU-level ground ambulance is equipped with the medical equipment necessary to act as a mobile intensive care unit with the ability to perform a multitude of highly skilled medical functions during transport, including video laryngoscopes, ICU-level ventilators, chest tube insertion kits, surgical airway kits, critical care medications, and blood products for transfusions.

In addition to new COVID-19 protocols, Life Flight Network has developed a tracking system to catalog every transport, allowing for contact tracing when necessary. The dashboard below (last updated 12/15/20) shows the concentration of pickup locations and receiving facilities throughout Life Flight Network’s four-state service region.

Partnership in Care

 “We appreciate our partnership with Life Flight in helping to ensure that patients will be provided with the best possible air transportation services during those critical moments where every minute matters. Through collaboration, Good Shepherd Health Care System and Life Flight are able to ensure resources remain available for our community members in need,” stated Lucas Bradshaw, Manager of Good Shepherd Health Care System’s Emergency Department.

“Like other hospitals across the country, we face a battle every day to maintain our supply of PPE and ensure adequate staffing levels as our own staff get sick or face burnout,” said Shelley Gay, director, Trauma/ICU Services, Samaritan Healthcare. “Our partnership with Life Flight has helped alleviate many of these pressures and is making a major impact on our local fight against COVID-19. Samaritan’s patients thank them for their continued selfless service to our community and unwavering commitment to the health of our region.”

“Managing the COVID-19 patient population is a constantly evolving process that requires us to monitor our daily census around the clock to ensure adequate staffing levels,” said Adam Richards, RN, Director of Emergency Services for Providence Health Care, who oversees the emergency departments at Providence Sacred Heart, Providence Holy Family Hospital, and Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.  “Life Flight Network is an extension of our care team that connects our community with the highest levels of care when necessary. Our partnership ensures critical care continues throughout transport, which gets patients to definitive care faster and ultimately improving outcomes.”

ABOUT LIFE FLIGHT NETWORK

Life Flight Network, a not-for-profit air medical service, is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS), the National Accreditation Alliance of Medical Transport Applications (NAAMTA), and Helicopter Association International (HAI). Life Flight Network is the largest not-for-profit air medical transport service in the United States. It offers ICU-level care during air transport across the Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West, and Alaska. Life Flight Network is headquartered in Aurora, Oregon. For more information about Life Flight Network or to become a member, visit www.lifeflight.org.

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