Boston MedFlight adapts to coronavirus pandemic

COVID-19 patients make up the majority of emergency transport organization’s transfers.

A Boston MedFlight helicopter at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. — Rich Saltzberg

For the past 35 years, Boston MedFlight, a nonprofit organization, has been transporting critically ill and injured patients by air and land around Massachusetts and across state lines to Boston area hospitals.

Over the past several weeks, Boston MedFlight has transported more than 200 patients with COVID-19, averaging about 10 to 15 patients a day, from around Massachuestts. Two of those patients were “quite sick” COVID-19 patients from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, according to hospital officials.

In a phone conversation with The Times, Boston MedFlight CEO Andy Farkas, spoke about the nonprofit’s efforts to continue providing emergency transportation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since COVID-19 has rapidly spread across Massachusetts, most of Boston MedFlight’s transfers have been ground transports, but several patients have been airlifted. Farkas said about 75 percent of Boston Medflight’s transports for the past several weeks are for patients with COVID-19 related issues.

After each transport, each aircraft and ambulance is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized with chemicals approved by the Centers for Disease Control. Cleanings can take up to 45 minutes.

“We routinely do cleaning of the vehicles everyday, but this is more of a high decontamination of all the equipment and the vehicles after each transport,” Farkas said.

Since its founding in 1984 and transporting its first patient, a 14-year-old boy hurt in an explosion, a year later, Boston MedFlight has transported and cared for more than 77,000 patients. 

Today, Boston MedFlight’s fleet of vehicles and aircraft consists of five helicopters, six ambulances, and one airplane, all outfitted to carry patients safely. They have 20 pilots combined for their helicopters and airplanes. Farkas said once the aircraft is up in the air, the flight takes about 30 minutes.

Transports are run by a team of nurses and paramedics assisting the patients, EMTs driving ground transports, and pilots operating air transports.

“The nurses and paramedics are primarily taking care of the patients and it’s a lot of work for them,” Farkas said. “Not only are these very critically ill patients who are on ventilators and multiple medications, but they have to wear all the [personal protective equipment] when they’re caring for the patients so there’s a lot of preparation time.”

As for PPE, Farkas said Boston MedFlight is in the same boat as everyone else — they could always use more. Being a nonprofit, Farkas added that Boston MedFlight is always looking for financial donations or PPE donations.

“We’re working hard to get it,” Farkas said. “We try to utilize the hospital’s PPE as much as possible, but they’re struggling as well as we are.”

Despite the pandemic, there has not been a large influx of transports off the Vineyard. But Farkas said Boston MedFlight has been working on contingency plans with Vineyard hospital CEO Denise Schepici, Nantucket Cottage Hospital CEO Gary Shaw, and leaders at several Boston area hospitals. The Coast Guard and the Steamship Authority have also been working with Boston MedFlight in the event of a surge in COVID-19 patients and more transports are needed. But aside from some difficult weather that can delay and cancel flights, Boston MedFlight has met demand.

As the coronavirus pandemic leaves much uncertain, Farkas said a solid and supportive relationship with the Vineyard hospital has kept service running smoothly.

“They’ve really done a great job of supporting us with helping us for resources for personal protection and being good colleagues and always being there to help with the logistics of moving the patients in and out,” Farkas said of the hospital. “They’ve always been a great support system to us.”



  1. More heroes among us, who I hope can feel our deep gratitude. How appalling that all these months after Trump and his administration were warned about the seriousness of this disease, that our frontline essential workers in a supposed first world country have to still beg and borrow for the needed personal protective equipment to try to keep themselves safe as they save the lives of our community. And still not enough tests to make it safe to go back to work? How is this leaderless, feckless, Clorox-addled, lying American government supported by anyone? How?

  2. Is there any way the Editor can focus comments on healthcare rather than politics? The virus has no poliical affiliation.

  3. Islander, to many, everything is political. And fodder for vituperation. A leaf falls from the tree, blame someone. Preferably, someone from an opposite political philosophy. I am in my ninth decade and I recall when we did all pull together to solve problems. Now, blame is the name of the game, and, I am afraid, to our detriment. One must separate oneself from such poisonous clouds.

  4. Are you saying that assigning the correct responsibility (blame) for many of the 55,000 deaths, give or take a few thousand American human bodies at latest count, is comparable to a leaf falling from a tree? No one is to blame for the lies, the blundering, and the dismissing of the seriousness of the pandemic– for months? Are you saying it is political and bitter to insist we have some accountability that the people who put their lives on the line for YOU don’t have protective gear? Sounds like it. You must have grown up in a different world than mine, a world where privileged white people, some with bone spurs, now say with a straight face that they all pulled together during Viet Nam, desegregation, and the civil rights movement. How about school shootings? Are you proud of how we can all pull together to solve problems? What planet are you living on? Less privileged people on the ground do the dirty work for you so that you can say in your old age that it is bitter to blame that we do not have stable, intelligent, and reliable leadership to guide, encourage and give us true facts (as opposed to alternative facts) so that we can face this crisis with a well-armed fighting force. We don’t even know how many people are affected because we don’t have enough tests and have been lied to about this government failure from the start. If you are not speaking out against the disproportionate numbers of non-privileged and non-white people who are dying from this scourge, there is something very wrong, and it’s not your memory that is out of touch. Many thousands have needlessly died because they were unprepared and without proper equipment to do things like clean buses and subways. Is it bitter to insist that the medi-flight crews have protective gear? Who wouldn’t be angry that do not? This country hasn’t pulled together since WWII, and maybe for a moment during 911 (until islamaphobia took over, about an hour after the first tower was hit). Acceptance of lies, silence about what you KNOW is happening, and covering up reality is wrong. Trying to blame those who won’t stand for it as “vituperative” is a privilege of Trump cult supporters and those who live in their own little world made up of lies and unreality. You remember when we all pulled together? You can separate yourself as much as you like from the reality of “poisonous clouds” that you don’t like to invade your distortions, but many more people who didn’t need to die are dying a horrible, lonely death because our government mismanaged the handling of every single stage of this pandemic. They are blamed because they are to blame. The point of blame is to make sure the GOP is voted out of the presidency and senate in November. The majority of Americans do indeed blame this administration. That’s the real world, Augusta, like it or not.

  5. Crickets from those who think objecting to needless fear, death, and suffering of those who are on the frontlines is too political for their fine, Vineyard-y fantasies that we’re all in this together. Facing reality is not in good taste or the Vineyard “way”, I suppose. Truth is sometimes bitter, so for some, it’s more refined not to address the issue directly but to complain to the moderator or to call me toxic and “politicizing”. As long as they’re alright, Augusta and Islander don’t seem to care that there’s a lack of protective gear for the medflight crews. They think it’s more important to complain about those who know this lethal failure is an immoral stain on our government.

  6. Wondering why islanders are so concerned about “outsiders” giving everyone the virus and overloading the hospital when all the hospital does is ship people off to MGH in Boston? Why is everyone so concerned about the hospital and it’s lack of beds when they just send everyone home or to Boston?

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