LifeFlight of Maine in a COVID-19 world: Part Two

The staff diligently works with EMS partners across the state to provide the best care possible.
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 5:27 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - For nearly 25 years, LifeFlight of Maine has been transporting the sickest patients in need of critical care, whether by ground or air.

The staff diligently works with EMS partners across the state to provide the best care possible.

The non-profit organization is playing a critical role in treating COVID patients, too.

The last 20 months have been a challenge for LifeFlight of Maine, but they’re still providing care when and where its needed, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Heading into the New Year, COVID is still causing a strain on our healthcare system.

“We cover pretty much, on the helicopter, anywhere from Fort Kent to Boston, and we do that flight on occasion,” LifeFlight of Maine helicopter pilot, Kirk Donovan. “Hospitals - a lot of them are full. A lot of our flights are longer than they used to be because we’re having to search more and more places to find an open bed.”

COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Maine, which has led to record hospitalizations.

Heading into the New Year, health officials continue to caution against the omicron variant.

On the Front Lines: LifeFlight Nurses and Paramedics

Caring for patients with COVID-19 can pose unique challenges, even when that care happens in the skies above Maine. Learn more about our LifeFlight of Maine crews and how their work has changed during the pandemic. You can view the full-length video here:

Posted by Northern Light Health on Monday, November 15, 2021

LifeFlight of Maine has been on the frontlines since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a fair bit of really sick COVID patients, in addition to our other group of patients. We see a fair bit of heart attacks, strokes, trauma, and some respiratory illnesses not related to COVID, but a fair amount of it is,” said LifeFlight of Maine flight paramedic, Brent Melvin.

According to LifeFlight of Maine, about 50% of their current transports are COVID or related.

“Much of what we do is taking patients out of critical access hospitals and bringing them to tertiary referral centers,” explained LifeFlight of Maine Chief Clinical Officer, Chuck Hogan. “We’re also now taking patients out of the tertiary referral centers and bringing them to quaternary centers in Boston and some of the larger hospitals. They’re being affected by the tertiary referral centers being full with COVID patients, and they’re needing to hold these patients longer. We oftentimes are seeing patients that are a bit sicker than maybe we would have two or three years ago that we’re taking out of some of these critical access hospitals.”

Hogan says throughout the pandemic, they’ve had more planning to do before each mission.

While they typically are made aware if a patient is COVID positive, that’s not always the case.

“We have had instances where we didn’t know and treat those patients as though they are positive and wear all the protective clothing to make sure we’re protecting our staff,” Hogan said.

That PPE has made it challenging for the medical staff to bring a human element to their aspect of medicine. Due to the amount of P-P-E they wear, they’ve been unable to show facial expressions and comfort their patients in ways they have before.

Cleaning the aircraft and ambulance is crucial, too. That could take up to 45 minutes to an hour to decontaminate everything following a mission.

Planning for each mission has become even more crucial, too, especially for the aviation staff.

Each LifeFlight helicopter averages 700 to 950 hours of flight time each year.

“The FAA says you are required to work a specific, and not overwork that specific hour time frame, so you really have to take that into consideration and see if you can logistically try and make that mission happen, even within those restraints required by the FAA. A lot of times you have to think outside the box and get with the next pilot and say, ‘I can do part of this mission. I can’t do this whole thing. But, you’re going to come and start at this point of the mission and continue on.’ In order to make that happen and get the patient where they need to go, it’s just a little bit more planning,” expained LifeFlight of Maine helicopter pilot, Kirk Donovan.

Regardless of the challenges, the LifeFlight staff has persevered. Donovan says it speaks volumes about the types of people they are to continue to work in this environment.

“The ground crews are already pushed right to the limit with the capacity they have as far as the number of people and assets that they have available,” said Donovan. “If we didn’t have this, I don’t know how it would even be possible. The communities would be suffering even more so than they are already. We all anticipated and hoped that we would be at the end of the pandemic at this point. The realization that we’re not is taking its task on people. The medical crew, and non-medical crew, for that matter, are tired. It’s easy to get short with each other. I think the biggest mission really is to remain as professional as possible. We’ll get through this eventually and we’ll figure it out.”

LifeFlight of Maine is a non-profit organization that relies on donations from people like you.

Your gift will help LifeFlight continue to answer calls from all corners of Maine.

Donations can be made here.

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