By Betsy Natter
Imagine having a medical condition that required treatment that was only available at a location far from your home. How would you get there and could you afford transportation? If there were no other options for care, what would you do?
For thousands of people across the county, that very scenario is all too real, but thanks to organizations like Angel Flight East, help is just a plane flight away. The Blue Bell based non-profit offers free air transportation to children and adults in need of medical treatment at facilities far from home as well as compassion flights to visit loved ones undergoing treatment or to assist in disaster relief efforts. The service is not for medical emergencies, but rather to provide access to specialty facilities for ongoing treatments such as burn care, chemotherapy, eye conditions, or specialized care for chronic congenital conditions or rare diseases.
Patients who apply for Angel Flight East’s services are not charged for transportation expenses. Instead, the individual pilots assume all the financial costs associated with the flight, including providing the plane, fuel and landing fees. Pilots volunteer for flights based on patient needs. More than one pilot may be involved in the round-trip transportation service for any one patient, so the coordination of treatment appointments and flights is a key component of the program, keeping the organization’s three full-time staff members very busy.
Patients and their family members may request flight services through the organization’s website. Individuals must be medically stable and able to climb into and fly in a small, non-pressurized cabin as well as meet the verification of need criteria. If a patient requires medical assistance or care inflight, they may be referred to a partner agency.
Angel Flight East maintains a fairly large footprint, covering 14 states from Virginia to Ohio to Maine. Volunteer pilots fly out of small, local airports close to patient homes and the medical facilities they utilize. This past year they facilitated over 800 flights, serving over 150 families. If a patient’s need extends beyond the organization’s geographic area of reach, the need is coordinated with a partner agency. In the United States there are approximately 60 medical air transportation services, but Angel Flight East was the first such non-profit in Pennsylvania and is the largest.
The end of 2017 marks the agency’s 25th year of service, but getting the word about who they are and what they do continues to be an important need for their growth. According to Executive Director, Ellen Williams, “Our biggest challenge is that people don’t know we are here and that we can help.” To broaden their exposure to the community the group has recently launched an initiative called The Young Professionals of Angel Flight East.
Young business professionals and entrepreneurs are given opportunities to network, develop professionally and become involved in their communities as well as to promote the mission of Angel Flight East. “With a small staff, we need to multiply ourselves through our volunteers.” The goal is for professional volunteers to represent Angel Flight East at speaking engagements and events all over the region, promoting the mission and raising awareness of the service as well as raising ongoing financial support amid a broader scope of contacts within the community. “This provides us with another way to put ourselves out there through their social media networks,” says Williams.
If you are interested in learning more about Angel Flight East or supporting their work through volunteering or donations, visit their website at www.angelflighteast.org.