Sister Joanna Brunner Family Medicine Center
October 23, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Flight for Life soars
Denver Business Journal - by Ryan Peacock
If Flight for Life crews earned frequent-flier points, they never would have to pay for travel again in their lives.
In 2007, the organization logged 2,687 hours of flight by its helicopters (comparable to flying without stopping for almost four months), 311,000 miles flown by its fixed-wing planes (the equivalent of 12 times around the world) and more than 70,000 miles traveled in its ambulance fleet (about 26 road trips from Los Angeles to New York City).
Established in 1972 as a nonprofit, medical transport service, Flight for Life continues to set a standard for providing emergency care. Its bright orange helicopters are recognized symbols used in situations such as avalanche rescues, major highway accidents, mountain traumas and the transport of critical patients.
Mike Brunko, medical director for Flight for Life, remembered seeing these helicopters land a few blocks from his house in Lakewood as a kid.
“It really impressed me seeing them respond to incidents in the mountains, and when the opportunity came to join Flight for Life, I considered it such an honor,” he said. “A system like this, the credit is deserving to every person involved, whether they’re flying a helicopter or answering a call at the communications center. Everybody has a specific important role, and there is tremendous respect within the program because of that.”
Since Flight for Life started, more than 300 flight programs around the country have been created and modeled after its concept. And throughout the years, a dedicated focus on safety and response to all types of patients, regardless of ability to pay, has driven the organization to expand its services.
“The helicopters are by far the most visible part of the program, but we also have a very busy plane and ambulance service,” said Kathleen Mayer, program director of Flight for Life.
Today, less than 50 percent of the organization’s responses are mountain trauma incidents such as skiing or hiking accidents. The majority of calls involve patients being transported from rural or smaller health care facilities to larger institutions to receive specialized care. These patients often need to be transported with a high level of care, and include high-risk pregnancies or elderly patients.
“One of the parts that people don’t hear about is our newborn team based at Children’s Hospital. They transport some of the most fragile little souls in the world,” Mayer said.
Four helicopters are stationed at bases in Denver, Frisco, Pueblo and Colorado Springs. There are two additional bases at Centennial Airport and The Children’s Hospital, and the communications center is located within St. Anthony Central Hospital. All of Flight for Life’s aircraft are leased, and it owns a fleet of ambulances.
“The thing the program did that was so important was they chose the right helicopter [Eurocopter AS 350 ‘AStar’] geared for the mountains and high altitude. It’s the same helicopter that set a record in 2005 by landing on the top of Mount Everest,” said Kevin Kelble, a flight paramedic. “Every time I get in a helicopter, no matter who I’m flying with, I have the upmost faith in the pilot, and that gives me such a huge confidence level to do my job,”
Before joining Flight for Life, Kelble was part of the Copper Mountain ski patrol for 18 years. He currently runs the Avalanche Deployment Program, a program that trains once a month in rapidly inserting avalanche rescue dog teams into the backcountry. He is also involved with Life Ticket, an expanded program that partners with search-and-rescue teams in dealing with mountain incidents.
“During my career at Copper Mountain, we had a dozen legitimate saves because we quickly utilized the helicopter on our end,” Kelble said. “I remember one incident where a skier had a head trauma, and from the time we got the call on our dispatch to the time he hit the operating room at St. Anthony’s was 58 minutes. The neurosurgeon called and said the patient still had snow on him when he arrived.”
A supporting foundation from St. Anthony Hospital provides fundraising specifically for the Flight for Life program, which includes an annual golf tournament at Sanctuary Golf Course. The event generally raises around $500,000, and this money is used to support training and equipment needs. This is especially important for an organization that needs to invest in in-depth training and advanced technology, such as GPS systems and night-vision equipment, Mayer said.
While Flight for Life does have competition in other medical air services such as AirLife out of HealthOne and Med Evac in Greeley, it still reinforces an ideal of open collaboration. When two medical helicopters collided in Flagstaff, Ariz., in June, the organization took the lead and met with these other programs to develop common protocols to prevent this from happening in Colorado.
“Flight for Life is essentially a traveling ICU,” Brunko said. “We really have become a national icon for air-medical transport, and there is such a tremendous sense of pride in being associated with the program.”
Small Medical Facility Finalists
Arapahoe House Location: Thornton Phone: 303-657-3700 Website: www.arapahoehouse.org Arapahoe House is Colorado’s largest provider of services for alcohol, substance abuse and other behavior health issues. The nonprofit operates 14 locations and serves more than 22,000 individuals each year. Its New Directions Facility provides mothers with the opportunity to maintain custody of their children while undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Treatment includes lessons in parenting, creating budgets and family health. A new E-Treat program is being created, which will allow it to be one of three organizations in the country offering an online therapy program.
Sister Joanna Brunner Family Medicine Center at St. Joseph Hospital Location: Denver Phone: 303-318-2000 Website: www.exempla.org The Sister Joanna Brunner Family Medicine Center offers family medicine care to the uninsured and underinsured. It provides services in chronic illness, immunizations, minor surgery, pregnancy and childbirth care, and sports medicine. Located on the Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital Campus, the center also provides resident training, allowing residents to work side by side with faculty. A sliding fee is part of the center’s program, which helps it serve the area’s neediest populations.