BAR HARBOR — To anyone who lives or works near the town athletic fields here, it seems that hardly a day goes by in the summer that a LifeFlight helicopter ambulance doesn’t land to pick up a patient.
In fact, that isn’t much of an exaggeration.
Between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, LifeFlight flew 47 missions to Bar Harbor, most of them during the summer.
Of the 138 Maine cities and towns to which LifeFlight flew on emergency missions during those 12 months, only nine had more flights than Bar Harbor.
The town with the most LifeFlight helicopter transports was Bridgton, with 75. Rockport had 67; Ellsworth 50.
LifeFlight helicopters flew to the town of Mount Desert twice, Swans Island twice and Southwest Harbor once in 2014-2015.
Helicopters sometimes land near the scene of a highway accident or fire to pick up a patient, but they most often transport patients from a community hospital – such as Mount Desert Island Hospital – to a larger medical center that offers more advanced or specialized care. Most patients are taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor or Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. Those hospitals are where the state’s two LifeFlight helicopters are based.
Those hospitals also transfer critically ill or injured patients to even larger institutions, primarily Maine Medical Center in Portland and Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s in Boston.
Occasionally, LifeFlight will pick up a patient on an outer island or some other remote location and take them to a community hospital for care. Thomas Judge, executive director of LifeFlight of Maine, said that is usually because, once the LifeFlight crew arrives and has an opportunity to evaluate the patient’s condition, they find it isn’t as serious as originally thought.
“We don’t want to take people farther than they need to go,” he said.
Along with the two helicopters, LifeFlight has regular ground ambulances for transporting patients. And as of May, it has an airplane to take patients from one medical center to another.
In 2014-2015, 77 percent of LifeFlight’s 1,635 transports were by helicopter, 22 percent by ground ambulance and 1 percent by airplane.
In addition to the 47 helicopter transports from Bar Harbor, there were 26 transports by LifeFlight ambulance.
The largest percentage of transports statewide were for non-cardiac medical reasons including respiratory distress, drug overdose and organ transplant. The next most common reason for transport was trauma, including brain injury, followed closely by cardiac problems. Stroke, sepsis (system-wide infection), high-risk pregnancies and premature births accounted for most of the other transports.
The number of LifeFlight transports this year is on track to exceed last year’s total by more than 100.
“The number goes up steadily, largely because there are changes in health care technologies and therapies that are time critical,” Judge said.