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COVID-19 increases emergency medical flights to, from Central Oregon hospitals

(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.

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Leslie Cano

Leslie Cano is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Leslie here.



  1. I wonder if she will ask about the “auto-launch” criteria that most of our local emergency departments have in place or just more fear porn about covid?

  2. Life Flight and AirLink are the two companies that service this area. Consider being a member of each so you don’t have to pay for your ride. The cost can be considerable and your insurer is unlikely to want to cover it.

  3. And in Portland they are outfitting their firefighters with…just say’in.

    “Portland area firefighters are getting a new piece of equipment. In an effort to keep firefighters safe, Portland Fire and Rescue has started fitting firefighters with ballistic vests. Public Information Officer Terry Foster tells KXL the move is a recommendation from its safety committee. “It’s nothing new,” Foster said, “You’ve probably seen medics with AMR, they have them as well. It’s something we’ve talked about in the past, but it’s something we’re moving on now.” (KXL)”

  4. Shouldn’t it be going down with how many are vaccinated? the way this is looking is the more people that get vaccinated the more people get COVID, and are being hospitalized. So we are at 60% now, 66% are partly vaccinated so in about two weeks we will be close to 70%, what are we going to see at 90%? if we ever get there. These stories are not Instilling confidence in the vaccine, as they are probably intended.

    1. Vaccines don’t work if you don’t take them. Those are the statewide percentages, but the percentage east of the Cascades (the region served by St. Charles) is much lower. I also think that the unvaxx’d tend to associate with the unvaxx’d and therefore spread it efficiently amongst themselves. Of the COVID cases in St. Charles today, 81% of them are unvaccinated. If you look at the weekly OHSU report, cases in Oregon have been declining for a couple of weeks in previously badly-hit areas like Roseburg and Medford, but they’re still plateauing here.

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