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.”