(Update: Adding video, comments from Life Flight official, St. Charles Bend patient)
COVID-19 cases, hospital capacity issues playing a role; some flown out of state
PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The need for air ambulance emergency flights has increased in Central Oregon, in large part due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only are severely ill COVID-19 patients being brought to hospitals by helicopter, patients are being flown to more distant locations, as local hospitals are at or near full capacity.
"It's a notable increase, and we’re seeing it across the healthcare industry," Michael Weimer, regional vice president of Life Flight Network, said Tuesday.
Weimer said more patients are arriving at hospitals through his company’s emergency flights.
"We have Oregon-based hospitals that are being forced to refer patients as far as California, Utah, Wyoming, in those areas. Those are very atypical referrals for Oregon-based hospitals," Weimer said.
Kevin Scoggin, a Redmond resident, has been in and out of St. Charles hospitals for the last month after contracting COVID-19. He’s needed ambulance services several times, but recently needed to be flown by AirLink from St. Charles Redmond to Bend after experiencing low oxygen levels.
"I was deemed critical, so they used it," Scoggin said.
While at the hospital, Scoggin said he noticed frequent emergency flights landing and taking off from his patient room.
"I even witnessed one where a helicopter departed, and within two minutes a helicopter arrived, and it was both air ambulance services,” Scoggin said.
The increased need for emergency flights could lead to a lack of coverage in some areas.
Weimer said, "As an aircraft departs and maybe will be gone for five hours, instead of two hours, backfilling those areas to ensure there's proper coverage is certainly a challenge," Weimer said.