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May 3, 2016 - 5:05pm

Mercy Flight: helping more people than ever while facing staffing challenges

Mercy Flight Air Ambulance enjoyed another successful year of aiding people in Genesee County, according to a presentation Monday afternoon before the Human Service Committee.

County Manager Jay Gsell requested contract approval for the provision of air medical transfer service in Genesee County for the 2016-17 fiscal year in the amount of $14,250, the same as it's been since 2011.

At the end of a presentation about the agency from Outreach Coordinator Lynn O'Donnell and Mercy EMS Operations Manager Larry Baumgardt, the committee recommended without discussion that the Legislature approve the status quo funding.

(The county is not involved with funding the ground ambulance services.)

Highlights of Mercy Flight for fiscal 2014-15 include:

  • A total of 179 requests for Air Ambulance (helicopter) from Genesee County; 91 transports completed;
  • Total Mercy Flight transports for 2015 were 1,100;

For Mercy EMS, in operation for six years now:

  • 7,377 requests for services; 4,824 transports completed;
  • In the City of Batavia, there were almost 3,000 calls for Mercy EMS in 2014; that number grew to 3,500 in 2015.

Call Types (55 percent were on scene; 45 percent were inter-facility transfers)

  • Adult Trauma -- 38 percent
  • Adult Medical -- 37 percent
  • Adult Cardiac -- 13 percent
  • Pediatric Medical -- 7 percent
  • Pediatric Trauma -- 4 percent
  • Neonatal -- 2 percent

Destination Hospitals:

  • Erie County Medical Center -- 33 percent
  • Buffalo General -- 23 percent
  • Strong Memorial -- 15 percent
  • Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo -- 12 percent
  • Mercy Hospital -- 6 percent
  • Other NY Hospitals -- 5 percent
  • Hamot Medical Center -- 3 percent
  • Other Pennsylvania and Ohio Hospitals -- 3 percent

Funding goes to:

  • Operations/Programs -- 93 percent
  • Development & Fundraising -- 7 percent
  • Misc. -- .5 percent

O'Donnell reported that Mercy Flight continues to upgrade its aircraft. Its Bell 429, the company flagship based in Batavia, recently completed its fourth year of service. Four American Eurocopters have all been refurbished, updated and painted to match the Bell. A Lear 31 twin engine jet is also housed at the Batavia base, in partnership with Thunder Run Aviation. The jet provides advanced life support transports beyond what can be provided by the helicopters.

Due to the new partnership between UMMC and Rochester General Hospital, more transports are being logged to Rochester General.

A good deal of time is spent promoting the agency and working with fire/EMS crews and community organizations, O'Donnell said. For example, Mercy Flight offers first responder ground crew safety training that teaches when and how to request Mercy Flight along with the safety requirements for preparing for a safe landing. There were six trainings in Genesee County in the 2014-15 fiscal year, and 84 first responders attended, a total that is "significantly up" from the previous year.

Another community involvement opportunity that Mercy Flight engages in is prom safety/DWI drills and local high schools. These help students make good decisions, reducing DWI-related accidents. Two were held in 2014-15 -- at Elba and at Byron-Bergen. Funding from the Governor's Traffic Safety Grant makes these possible and they will be offered again this year.

Strong partnerships continue with fire/EMS, law enforcement and UMMC, as well as the Chamber of Commerce.

For Mercy Flight, base tours and participation in community events such as the Genesee County Fair, YWCA Penny Carnival, UMMC Teddy Bear Clinic, Pembroke Winterfest, Summer in the City, Brick House Corners Fair and the Oakfield Christmas tree decorating help educate the public and help with fundraising, according to the report. Fundraisers such as the annual Hackers for Helicopters Golf Outing and dinner events at Batavia Downs Gaming and Batavia Country Club are important for these reasons, too.

For Mercy EMS, the ambulance fleet continues to be upgraded, including "graphic schemes that match the helicopters." Three new ambulances will be replacing three old ones. Also, two bases of operations are in place to improve response times for more remote location calls -- one in South Byron, the other in East Pembroke.

Taking part in the UMMC Teddy Bear Clinic and Mash Camps allow preschoolers and pre-teens to learn about EMS. Parades and EMS standbys for community events also provide outreach opportunities, as does allowing local EMT students and UMMC residents-in-training the chance to shadow EMS providers for real-life experience.

Committee Vice Chair Marianne Clattenburg, who represents District 8, asked if recruitment of EMS personnel is difficult.

"Absolutely, this is a nationwide problem," Baumgardt responded.

After a person is already a certified EMT, there's an additional two-year training period required to become a paramedic. That's is a daunting commitment for some and the pay rate in a small market like Genesee County compared to bigger markets does not help any.

"You've served Genesee County for 35 years and we're extremely happy and thankful for that extra level of protection," Committee Chair Rochelle Stein (District 5) said about Mercy Flight.

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