Flight services to help non-emergency patients

The recent closure of the Nye Regional Medical Center in Tonopah prompted a slew of responses from across the country as Nye County officials are grappling for a quick solution to a looming health care crisis.

Lately, the situation got on the radar of Angel Flight West, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit organization that provides free transportation to individuals in need of non-emergency medical treatment ranging from chemotherapy and transplants to doctors’ appointments scheduled out of the area.

Tom Porta and Justine Harrison, volunteer pilots for AFW, made a presentation to Nye County Commissioners on Tuesday where they explained how the organization could assist those who no longer can receive medical services locally.

“I want to emphasize the human compelling need, it’s not just medical reasons we fly folks, we will consider any situation that someone might find themselves in to transport them,” said Porta, who also serves as Nevada wing leader for AFW.

Cheri Cimmarrusti, associate executive director of AFW, said as of now, the organization had flown only a handful of Pahrump passengers from Las Vegas area airports.

“Pahrump being relatively rural would be a perfect place where people do need to travel to get to medical treatment for more serious (and) complicated illnesses,” she said. “Those that can’t be treated locally often need to travel.”

AFW has over 1,400 volunteer pilots who provide free transportation to individuals in need of medical treatment across 13 western states including Nevada, according to its website.

Additionally, the organization also flies physicians in for appointments, Porta said.

Nye County Commission Chairperson Lorinda Wichman said following the closure of the hospital, she had received calls from as far as Washington, D.C.

“It’s fantastic,” Wichman said about AFW. “I truly believe they are a group of angels.”

Justine Harrison, member of the board of directors of AFW and one of the volunteer pilots based out of Henderson, Nevada said just last year the organization had 7,000 missions under its belt.

Those who would like to use the organization’s services should contact the Santa Monica office and have their attending physician sign a medical release to get them into the system. After that, Porta said, patients can schedule their own flights.

Some of the other requirements include a liability waiver prior to getting on an aircraft and extensive information that includes contacts and appointment details.

“So we need a little bit of information about your condition, we aren’t asking for your whole history or anything like that, but we do need some information so that pilots know when they fly you, kind of what your issue is and they can be wary of that or might be able to provide something that can help you,” Porta said.

“There’s a lot we can do, there’s a lot of resources that we can bring to bear, we have a lot of volunteer pilots all over Nevada,” Harrison said. “We love to fly and we love to fly for humanitarian reasons and so, we are here to help, we are here to support you and your communities’ needs and we look forward to doing stuff.”