COME HELI OR HIGH WATER

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Jerome Deulin / Airbus Helicopters

Boston MedFlight remains Nantucket’s lifeline to emergency care on the mainland.

Later this year, the Nantucket Cottage Hospital will open the doors to a brand new, cutting-edge medical facility that will dramatically enhance patient care on the island and be tailor made to meeting the complex challenges of delivering treatment thirty miles out to sea. While the hospital and its caregivers are equipped to treat nearly all medical emergencies on the island, there are still extreme situations that require calling in reinforcements. For that, the Nantucket Cottage Hospital radios in Boston MedFlight (BMF).

Just about anyone who lives on Nantucket knows the ominous womp womp womp of the MedFlight helicopter pounding overhead as it comes in for a landing on the helipad on 57 Prospect Street. That thudding of helicopter blades usually indicates that a member of the Nantucket community is in a dire situation. During the summer months, an average of one patient per day is flown off the island by MedFlight. Despite this critical role, most people might be unaware that this emergency transport service is actually an independent nonprofit that depends on the generosity of donors to stay soaring.

“Boston MedFlight transports over 4,100 patients a year, including around three hundred from Nantucket alone,” indicates BMF’s Tom Hurder. “And because we never deny service to patients in need due to a lack of insurance or inability to pay, we provide over $500,000 a year in free and unreimbursed care just to Nantucket patients.” Two years ago, only 13% of patients from Nantucket Cottage Hospital had to pay for this vital transport, which costs around $2,000 a flight. Of course, the care that is delivered is priceless. Inside the helicopter’s berth, MedFlight’s veteran critical-care nurses and EMTs keep patients stable on the hour-long flight to the life-saving care of Massachusetts General Hospital.

“As one who has benefitted personally from the speed and skill of Boston MedFlight and has shepherded many friends through the excellent emergency services at Nantucket Cottage Hospital and into the care of the fine BMF pilots and critical care nurses and paramedics, I want to remind my neighbors that Boston MedFlight is truly committed to the health and safety of this community and to southern New England,” wrote Dr. David Nathan in an op-ed in the Inquirer & Mirror last July. Nathan is the president emeritus of Dana Farber and a longtime Nantucket summer resident who needed to be flown off the island for emergency care. “We are all in this isolated position together. We need Boston MedFlight… and they need our support.”

Based primarily in Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts, MedFlight recently opened a new base of operations in Mansfield, which along with another satellite location in Plymouth, will provide more direct service to Nantucket. They’ve also expanded their fleet, adding three new Airbus 415s that pack more power and are 50% quieter than their predecessor. So while the sound of the helicopter overhead may not be as loud as before, folks on Nantucket can rest assured that MedFlight is continuing to serve as a vital lifeline to the mainland.

“Even after we complete the new hospital and expand the NCH emergency department, Boston MedFlight will remain a critical resource for island patients who require services that are beyond the scope of a community hospital,” says the Nantucket Cottage Hospital’s spokesman Jason Graziadei. “We’re proud that more than 97 percent of the patients who come to the NCH emergency department are able to be treated and released on the island. But in cases when a transport is in the best interest of the patient and a higher level of care is necessary, it gives us confidence to work with the men and women of Boston MedFlight who are true professionals.”

Part of the beauty of living or visiting Nantucket is being removed from the mainland, miles away from the “real world.” But as any Nantucketer can attest, few experiences are more infuriating than getting stuck on the island when you just need to get off. When your life depends on reaching the mainland, though, Boston MedFlight provides the peace of mind of being only a call away.

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