Flight for Life: 30 years and 36,000 patients

Flight for Life: 30 years and 36,000 patients

Thirty years ago, on June 1, 1987, Flight For Life-McHenry transported its first patient from Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. That was the beginning of a close partnership in trauma care and paramedic education that continues today.

Since its inception in 1984, Flight for Life has transported over 36,000 patients to hospitals all over Wisconsin and Illinois, including many of the Advocate hospitals.

Tammy L. Chatman, certified medical transport executive and professional relations manager of the Flight For Life McHenry and Waukesha bases, shares here why this service is essential to the trauma care system.

Why was Flight For Life established?

When the Flight For Life McHenry base was started there were other air medical programs, but they were further away – Rockford, Chicago and Milwaukee – increasing the time that it took to get a critically-ill and injured patient to the care they needed and stressing the resources of the community hospitals. The need for a more centrally-located service was identified by area EMS leaders, Dr. George Gallant and Bill Riggs, as well as Barb Hess, the Flight For Life program director at the time. They knew that reducing out-of-hospital time for these types of patients and getting them to the definitive care they needed as quickly as possible with the highest level of care provided en route, was critical to their survival and recovery.

After a lot of research and hard work over a couple of years, the FFL-McHenry base finally opened on May 30, 1987. One of the advantages the new FFL base and the Flight For Life program overall provided, and still does, was that two units of O negative blood were and continues to be carried onboard the aircraft. Since there is no substitute for blood this have been critical to the survival of many FFL patients over the years.

How does it support the hospital systems and overall trauma care?

Flight For Life is just one piece of the overall system that provides care to critically ill and injured patients. No one piece is more or less important than the other; it is about teamwork. FFL works with first responders-fire/EMS, law enforcement, dispatch- and hospital teams to provide the best possible care and outcomes for patients. Our mission is to provide safe, high quality, customer-oriented and efficient medical transportation, with a commitment to education. Safety is the number one priority at Flight For Life and is integrated into all that we do on the ground and in the air. Our responsibility to the patients, first responders, hospitals and communities we serve is to ensure that everything we do begins and ends with safety as the guiding principle.

Speed of transport is but a piece of the benefit that FFL brings to the patient, first responders and hospital systems; it is more importantly about the advanced level of care that the flight nurse and flight paramedic provide at the scene, bedside and en route that makes the difference. The FFL medical crew’s advanced scope of practice and their intensive, ongoing training exceeds that which is required and practiced by emergency department or ICU nurses and fire department paramedics.

As part of our mission we provide education and training – clinical, operational and professional – to our referring and receiving providers on an ongoing basis. This includes, but is not limited to, case reviews at local hospitals as well as paramedic student presentations for a number of EMS systems including Advocate Condell, Sherman and Lutheran General’s paramedic programs. FFL is a non-profit organization and provides education and training at no charge to our first responder and hospital partners.

How do all the players in trauma care work together?

Teamwork is the glue that binds the pre-hospital and hospital personnel together enabling excellence in patient care and improving outcomes. It is integral to everything we do. FFL is just a piece of the chain of survival. We learn from each other and thru the quality improvement process, hone our skills to become better patient care providers. This requires a give and take plus the willingness to admit when things could have gone better and to encourage improvement where needed.

What keeps you motivated to provide this service?

The patients that we are called to provide care for and transport are on average the most critical; hence the reason they are flown by our advanced critical care flight teams. Knowing that you are able to provide the very best care for those patients in a time of extreme need is very rewarding. Our teams know that not every patient they transport will have a positive outcome. What they do know is that when they arrive at the bedside or on scene, they come prepared with the training, skills, equipment and expertise to provide that patient with the best possible chance at survival and recovery.

You will never save everyone, because that is not God’s plan.  But you will train every day to be prepared to step in to provide the care that makes a difference for those patients in need. We are just a tiny piece of the overall system. It takes teamwork, cooperation, and communication by all involved. Whether it is a patient trapped in a car, a child, a burn patient, or someone who is suffered a traumatic amputation- it’s a system.  We are no more important than anyone else – from housekeeping to physicians – it takes a team.  That’s what makes a great partnership between our referring hospitals and the pre-hospital community.

Any touching stories that have stayed with you?

Every member of our team has a story or stories that they carry with them their entire career, those patients they never forget no matter how much time has passed. Those are the ones that lift you up when the days are long and you may have had a few tough flights. They remind you why you decided to make this your career choice and how you, as part the chain of survival, make a difference.

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About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.