Airlift Northwest upgrading
By Marie L. Monyak
May 04, 2006
Ketchikan, Alaska - Wednesday evening Airlift Northwest, an emergency
air medical transportation organization, hosted the monthly After
Hours event at Steamers Restaurant. After Hours is a once a
month networking activity sponsored by the Greater Ketchikan
Chamber of Commerce to allow members to better understand the
workings of the business hosting the event in a casual and relaxed
setting accompanied by light refreshments and hor de' oeuvres.
Airlift Northwest is a not-for-profit organization founded by
three medical facilities; Children's Hospital and Regional Medical
Center, Harborview Medical Center and University of Washington
Medical Center and they maintain seven bases located throughout
the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska.
Airlift Northwest crew
with Chamber President Joe Johnston on left back row and
Airlift NW founder and medical director Michael K Copass on far
Photo by Marie L. Monyak
President and Founder of Airlift Northwest, Michael K Copass,
MD spoke briefly to the gathering, "It's been a privilege
to take care of the people up here and I hope you'll allow us
to continue in our quiet and intense way." Copass reminded
everyone that his organization has been serving Southeast Alaska
since 1981 and has facilitated the transport of almost 3000 people
from Ketchikan for further medical treatment down South. We're
proud of our record and we've worked hard to serve this community."
With a more visible presence in recent weeks, Airlift Northwest
is upgrading their services by establishing a local base of operations
in Ketchikan. Rather than rotating two pilots and two nurses
between Ketchikan and Seattle, staff will be assigned to and
living in Ketchikan to assist in providing a quicker and more
efficient response to medical emergencies.
According to Shelly Deering, Airlift Northwest's Chief Flight
Nurse, "We've hired two new nurses who will be assigned
to Ketchikan and they're currently spending two weeks in Seattle
receiving training and clinical time. Once the nurses arrive
in town they will continue their training on real patients."
The training and experience of the nurses is critical as Deering
explained, "Patients aren't always stabilized. For example,
if we respond to a call on Prince of Wales Island or on a cruise
ship, they don't always have the resources to stabilize a patient
so it's up to our nurses to do that."
We will probably be hiring three more nurses and we've already
rented a house for them. "When asked where the new base
is located, Deering explained, "The house we've rented is
our temporary base of operations right now but we're looking
for an office. As you know, the logistics here can be daunting
so we want the nurses to help in deciding if they can better
serve the community and their mission by setting up their base
in Ketchikan or on Gravina Island."
In describing his medical team in Ketchikan, Copass said, "All
of our nurses come from Trauma or ICU departments enabling them
to provide a higher level of care. You're technically in a Harbor
View [Medical Center] Trauma Care Unit when you're on our plane.
When responding to a call our nurses go to the hospital to ascertain
if the patient is stable enough to be transported and if they
are the nurses then package the patient." When asked to
explain what packing the patient meant, Copass replied, "It's
the procedure of preparing the patient to sustain a one and a
half hour flight at 35,000 feet."
The fixed wing aircraft that Copass said would be flying at 35,000
feet are Learjet 35A's with a cruising speed of 500 miles per
hour with a range of 1500 miles. Carl Campbell, President and
Chairman of the Board of Executive Flight, Inc, explained their
relationship to the air medical transport organization, "We
have a 5 year renewable contract with Airlift Northwest to provide
them with the fixed wing aircraft and furnish the flight crew
and maintenance. We currently have 5 pilots assigned to Ketchikan."
Don Harter, one of the five pilots Campbell mentioned, is also
the Manager and Director of Operations. When asked how long
it takes from the time they receive a call out to actually departing
the Ketchikan Airport, Harter hesitatingly replied, "Well,
in Juneau it's only 30 to 40 minutes but in Ketchikan it takes
extra time because we're dependant on the ferry. There are always
two pilots on every flight and they ride over [to the airport]
in the Aero Services skiff to get the plane out of the hanger
then we wait on the ferry to bring the ambulance over."
Also, according to Harter, with a crew that consists solely
of 5 pilots, minor maintenance is provided by aircraft mechanic
Josh Murdock of Pacific Airways but major mechanical maintenance
and repairs are accomplished at Executive Flight's headquarters
in Wenatchee, Washington.
With all of these pilots, nurses and Learjet's stationed in Ketchikan
one must wonder about the cost of the average medical transport
to Seattle from Ketchikan. Copass said, "The current cost
is about $22,000 to $25,000, it varies dependant on whether it's
a scheduled flight which would be less than an acute care flight
which would of course be higher." As Airlift Northwest
is a not-for-profit organization Copass said, "We charge
the insurance company and if there is a balance or if the patient
doesn't have insurance we do not send the account to collections
but rather encourage a payment program even if it's just $5 a
month. We have some people that have been paying $5 a month
for years and we're happy with that."
So why set up a base in Ketchikan? It all comes down to service,
according to Copass, "We've flown tens of thousands of people
from Southeast and we found we can serve the people here more
efficiently in this manner."
Marie L. Monyak is
a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
A freelance writer is an uncommitted independent writer
from whom a publisher, such as SitNews, can order articles for
For information about Monyak's freelance writing services and
costs contact her at mlmx1[at]hotmail.com
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