It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while Mercy Flight can't fly a lifesaving mission because of bad weather.
More of those missions could be flown if hospitals installed devices to assist pilots flying instrument-only.
Jeff Mendola, an external affairs director for Mercy Flight, met with the Public Service Committee on Monday and provided an annual review of Mercy Flight operations to the county, including information on plans to move toward greater IFR (instrument flying rules) capability.
In 2011, first responders issued 122 requests for Mercy Flight, and 70 missions were completed. UMMC made 34 requests and 29 missions were completed.
The majority of cancelled missions were ground or in-air standbys where it was determined that the patient did not require air transport, but about one third of the scrubbed missions were cancelled because of weather conditions.
Developing greater IFR capability is a matter have deploying helicopters with IFR technology, training pilots and ensuring point-to-point IFR devices.
A ground device costs about $30,000. And while all airports have them, there haven't been hospitals in the region with instrument flight equipment, including Strong Memorial Hospital and Erie County Medical Center.
Now nearly all of Mercy's helicopters -- including the new Bell 429, known as Mercy Flight 5, pictured above -- have controls for instrument flying.
Getting hospitals upgraded and pilots trained go hand-in-hand so that's the process Mercy Flight is engaged in now.
In 2011, 20 percent of Mercy's missions went to Strong and 43 percent to ECMC.
While Mercy Flight doesn't transport to United Memorial Medical Center, it does pick up patients at the Batavia hospital two or three dozen times per year. But the facility is close enough to the Genesee County Airport that UMMC doesn't need instrument capability, Mendola said.
The airport is within seven minutes for the Bell from any part of Genesee County. If the helicopter could fly to a property equipped Strong or ECMC, the decision for medical responders would simply be what's fastest -- ground transport to a trauma center, or transport to the airport then instrument flying for the Bell from Genesee County to the appropriate hospital.
As it stands, in medical emergency situations where Mercy Flight is grounded, ambulance transportation is the only option.
Last year, Mercy forgave $700,000 in care provided to uninsured and under-insured patients, which worked out to $842 per patient. To help cover those costs, Mercy is running a program where individuals or groups can sponsor a mission. Donations can be sent to: Mercy Flight, Inc., 100 Amherst Villa Road, Buffalo, NY 14225.
Mendola said Mercy Flight may be the last purely nonprofit medical emergency transport operation in the United States.