Living ‘The Alaska Life’ offers unrivaled opportunity to access vast open spaces, amazing wildlife, and beautiful landscapes. Residents and millions of visitors alike experience the benefits of enjoying Alaska on the beaten path, and there are others who enjoy going deep into the solitude of The Last Frontier. What both rarely take into consideration is the likelihood of having a serious medical emergency while enjoying Alaska. As we know, Alaska’s remoteness means often you can’t drive to, or even call, for help when you need it.
Medical evacuation (or medevac), provided by companies like Guardian Flight, is often the only way you’ll be able to receive specialty or emergency treatment in time. Yet, these air ambulance services are often misunderstood. Read on for seven facts you need to know about a medevac.
1) Medevacs are dispatched for all of Alaska, both the city and bush. Most people assume air ambulances are called primarily for those hunters, backpackers, and hardcore outdoors people who venture deep into the wild. However, these services are used frequently in Alaska’s metropolitan areas as well. Many hiking and recreating close to town often encounter medical emergencies but cannot be driven to, or a patient might need inter-facility transport at a moment’s notice.
2) Medevacs do not self-dispatch, but they can be requested by a range of people. Like the inter-facility transports, doctors, healthcare providers, law enforcement, first responders, and more are all capable of dispatching an air medevac for a variety of reasons. Who else can dispatch? You! Your call to 911 may be routed to an air ambulance service for evacuation from a remote area.
3) Several types of aircraft are involved in medevac transportations. Why do you hear about so many people being ‘life flighted’ to Seattle? It’s because Alaska doesn’t have a level 1 trauma center. A level 1 trauma center is a medical center able to provide the highest level of treatment for all types of trauma, and unfortunately the closest one is in Seattle. Having access to a wide-variety of aircraft including Guardian Flight’s Lear 45 planes for these transports to Seattle means faster long-distance transfers. That doesn’t solve the remote extraction issue, but other fixed wing aircraft, float planes, and even helicopters do, and are utilized in the complete fleet of vehicles needed for almost any type of patient transportation out of the field.
4) Medevacs aren’t just ‘transportation’. A true medevac is also critical care in the sky. It’s often misunderstood that a medevac is just simply extraction/transport of a patient. An air ambulance is also a mobile intensive care unit. These aircraft are outfitted with state-of-the-art life support equipment, capable of performing EKGs, advanced monitoring, ventilatory support, and medication administration, much like you would see in a hospital ICU. The two medical crew members are trained in critical care; as are ground and hospital-based nurses and paramedics – but also complete extensive training to become flight certified, which includes hundreds of flight training hours. Lastly, the pilots in these situations are equipped with experience flying in Alaska, which means they are experts in the terrain, layout, weather, etc.
5) Medevacs care for patients of all ages. Alaska is big, Alaska is spread out, and people live all over the state. That means medical emergencies can happen at any time and in any part of the state. Whether its newborn babies in remote villages to elders needing emergency medical care, people of all ages in any village/town/city in the state could need medevac services. Crew members aboard the flights are trained for care of patients at the first stages of life all the way through specialized elder care, including bariatric patients.
6) Most medevac companies have membership services that help cover the cost of transportation. We all know calling for a regular ambulance isn’t cheap, so dispatching any type of aircraft with trained medical staff onboard, with specialized medical equipment to a remote part of Alaska isn’t going to be cheap either. Extractions and transportation of medical patients could be tens of thousands of dollars. Depending on the situation, you may also be transported by the Coast Guard or National Guard. Military transports are done at no cost to the patient but are limited in use and these aircraft are not equipped to care for patients for long periods of time. If you are flown by a private provider like Guardian Flight, many companies offer a unique membership option that gives additional financial peace of mind if you ever have to be transported. While it’s not health insurance, a membership means you wouldn’t have any out of pocket costs if you’re flown by that company. Given the wide-variety of activities Alaskans enjoy, having a membership doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
7) If you are flown by Guardian Flight or another private company, you usually are able to carry a small amount of personal items with you as well as have an escort. Assuming your personal items are already with you at the time of your emergency, you can bring a few items with you like a change of clothes. Additionally, depending on weight and fuel, you may be able to have a family member, a hunting/hiking partner, or someone else travel with you as you’re being transported. Military aircraft, on the other hand, typically do not have additional space for belongings or escorts.
While we wouldn’t trade the benefits Alaska offers for anything, it’s good to know that in the event of an emergency, trained crew and fast aircraft are available to get us to the care we need quickly.