LifeFlight a godsend in rural Maine

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — If someone calls 9-1-1 because a person has an immediate life-threatening condition, often a medical helicopter is deployed.

Once the person is aboard a LifeFlight helicopter, the person is not simply being transported to a hospital, he or she is in a flying hospital.

“You have everything: [units of] blood, a pharmacy, high-end ventilators, multi-mode ventilators, invasive cardiac monitoring, advanced airway equipment, nine infusion pumps, an ICU pharmacy,” according to Lifeflight of Maine Executive Director Thomas P. Judge.

“You literally have everything you would have in an [Intensive Care Unit] ICU — ultrasound equipment and a laboratory. There is $500,000 of equipment that you have,” Judge said.

LifeFlight employs “56 nurses and paramedics. They are given a physicians’ scope of practice. They are allowed to do things that otherwise only physicians are okay to do,” he said.

“There are two sets of equipment so if they return from a call and everything is contaminated, they can get it out and put in the backup equipment,” he said.

LifeFlight has impacted the lives of area residents, whether it has been at the scene of vehicular accident along Route 302, or at the local hospital when someone needed to be transferred to a hospital in Boston, he said.

“We have done 18 scene calls, transported 142 Naples residents. I think there were 12 last year,” he said.

Judge is also the executive director of the LifeFlight Foundation based in Bangor.

He gave a presentation to the Naples Budget Committee on the afternoon of Jan. 23. LifeFlight is requesting $970 from the town. Typically, the money is used to leverage the purchase of aircraft.

“The foundation raises money for aircraft, raises money for medical equipment,” he said.

LifeFlight has a fleet of three helicopters and a replacement helicopter, a ground ambulance, and an airplane that is used for flying patients to hospitals outside of Maine.

“We are the only provider in Maine medicine that touches every community and every hospital. We touch every hospital in Maine,” Judge said. “We come to land in roads, land in fields, in towns.”

He thanked the committee for the town’s financial support for the past couple years.

“Town support is incredibly important to us. It speaks to public commitment; and when we are dealing with major foundations, being able to show that is really important,” he said.

“Two hundred and three towns around Maine are starting to put LifeFlight in their social services budget and, after a while, that all adds up,” he said.

The need for emergency medical care has increased.

“In the last year and a half, we have grown a lot. The underlying need for services is going up 5 to 8% a year. In 2018, it went up 11% in the first six months,” Judge said.

Two driving factors in that increase are: 1.) Improvements in stroke and post-cardiac arrest care 2.) Downsizing of specialty units in rural hospitals.

He mentioned that when he started 20 years ago, it was rare that someone survived a heart attack and was lifeflighted to a hospital. Now, LifeFlight transports two or three post-cardiac arrest patients a week.

“So much of our work is rural and so much of our work involves young people,” Judge said.

“If you are a child who is really sick in Maine and you’re not in Portland or Bangor, you would use LifeFlight,” he said. “We do a tremendous amount of outreach education around the care of critically ill children.”

Also, LifeFlight coordinates search and rescue with the Maine State Wardens, the Maine State Police, park rangers for Baxter and Acadia State Parks and the Department of Conservation.

“We coordinate search and rescue around the state so you get the best assets,” he said.

Search and rescue missions not included, LifeFlight transported 2100 people last year.

“We fly more hours than military aircrafts fly in Afghanistan,” he said.

That being said, two of the helicopters purchased in 2014 are in need of replacement because they cannot be re-engined and “they are showing their age,” Judge said.

“Aircraft replacement and education — that is where we focus the town funding in one of those two buckets. That is helping us along,” he said.

“In addition to high-end medicine and scene response, we do a tremendous amount of education on chain of survival in hospitals,” Judge said, adding that hospitals often contact the LifeFlight Foundation about training staff.  

“We’re a little nonprofit — not as little as it used to be but a little nonprofit with a very big public mission,” Judge said.

To see Judge’s presentation in its entirety or hear financial requests from other groups, go to Lake Region Television’s website and click on the Naples Budget Committee for Jan. 23.

Please follow and like us: