If you thought you heard more helicopter traffic over the island this summer, you were on to something. Boston MedFlight marked its busiest summer ever transporting patients from Nantucket to mainland hospitals in 2021, recording a 50 percent increase over prior years.
The non-profit organization transferred a total of 148 patients off the island from June through August this year. A typical summer is around 100 patient MedFlight operations. Andy Farkas, Boston MedFlight’s Chief Operator Officer, attributed the increase in transports to the growing Nantucket population, both year-round and during the summer.
“It’s a function of the sheer volume of people coming over to the island, and that started before the summer,” Farkas said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to move to areas with more seclusion and less risk, so places they usually visit in the summer, maybe they’ve made it their year-round home. This summer had a huge influx of people, and people who were cooped up for months.”
While MedFlight did not have the number of COVID-19 patients it has transferred off the island readily available, Farkas said he did not believe those patients accounted for the increase. Many of the transfers are people who delayed getting healthcare during the pandemic.
“What we’re finding is many people have withheld getting the healthcare they needed during the pandemic,” Farkas said. “They said ‘maybe I’m not going to get that procedure.’ Then they visit the island, their symptoms flare up, and they need transfer. Everyone thinks COVID-19 is increasing our numbers, but that has not been the prevalence of cases we’re transferring from the island.”
Nantucket Cottage Hospital public information manager James Lanza said this summer’s MedFlight transfers equaled roughly 2 percent of the 6,000-plus patients who sought care at the hospital’s emergency department during that span.
“These cases may range from major chest trauma where NCH is able to place a chest tube or otherwise stabilize a critically ill patient before transferring them off island for potential thoracic surgery, to neurosurgery and cardiac catheterization,” Lanza said. “This lifesaving work wouldn’t be possible without the resources from Boston MedFlight.”
When patients do not have insurance or the ability to pay, Boston Medflight provides its services free of charge. Each year the non-profit provides about $700,000 in free care to Nantucket patients, according to Paul Joyal, the organization’s director of marketing and communications.
“When we get a request for a patient transfer, we don’t ask for insurance up front,” Farkas said. “We take care of the patient regardless, and in situations where patients don’t have medical insurance, we work them to get reimbursed and it typically becomes free care.”