Behind the Scenes: Coordinating Patient Transports with Life Flight

By Jason M Carlton

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes for Life Flight to transport a patient? Cindy Hayes is an Operational Controller with Intermountain Life Flight. On average, she coordinates 8-10 flights per 12-hour shift. She offers a little glimpse at the coordination required to transport patients throughout Utah and/or parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Arizona.

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Cindy writes,

When a flight request comes in, the Communication Specialist (CS) fills me in on the type of transport needed, then I communicate with the pilot about the request. The medical information about the patient isn't initially given to the pilot, that way there is no pressure for him to take a flight based on patient condition when weather could be an issue.

I then need to check for what's known as NOTAMS ("Notice to Airmen"), or any obstacles that would impede the flying area or crew safety, before submitting a flight plan to the pilot, which contains:

 - Where they will pick up the patient

 - Where they will transport the patient

 - How many people will be on the aircraft

 - How much fuel they should have

 - How long they will be gone

 - Weight of the patient

 - A flight number

I then reach out to the security department for the origin hospital of the aircraft involved in the transport so they know the helicopter will be lifting off. Once they are in the air, it is my responsibility to follow them in flight to ensure they get safely to and from their destination - I submit a position report every 15 minutes throughout the duration of the flight.

Additionally, I contact the referring hospital or agency with an estimated time of arrival (ETA) so they can assure the landing area is secured for the helicopter. If we are sending a plane, we make sure an ambulance is at the airport to meet the team and transport them to and from the patient.

Each day is always different and can get pretty complicated as more requests come in and we have to think outside the box. My co-workers are a great bunch of people to work with. One of the things I like most about my job is the opportunity to help people on their worst day by sending highly-trained experts to help make it better.

If you have a photo to share of one of our birds in action, I invite you to share it on Life Flight's Facebook page.