Graphic: A person lying on a hospital stretcher is pushed toward an aircraft with RFDS logo.

RFDS announces first Patient Transfer Facility in regional SA

Date published

24 Oct 2019

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has announced a landmark project to establish the RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility, the first of its kind in regional South Australia.

The RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility will enhance patient care and operational response times for critical patients, as well as upgrading comfort levels for patients, crews and service-delivery partner
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RFDS crews land twice a day somewhere in the South East – at least once a day at Mount Gambier Airport – to airlift residents and tourists to one of Adelaide’s major hospitals for life-saving care or specialist medical treatment.

Mount Gambier patients – like those at every other rural, regional and outback aerodrome in the state – are transferred into a RFDS aircraft standing on the tarmac at all times of day and night, in the elements and in all extremes of seasonal weather.

To improve patient comfort and care, the RFDS has purchased an existing aircraft hangar on site, and will refurbish half the structure into an indoor patient care facility and retain the other half as a traditional hangar for aircraft parking and patient loading under cover, when required.

The converted hangar will enable RFDS and SAAS MedSTAR crews to stabilise a deteriorating patient more effectively prior to flight or, more simply, enable the transfer of patients into the aircraft under cover and protected from extremes of weather.

RFDS staff & supporters celebrate hangar sale

“The RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility will set a new standard of care provided by the RFDS and its service-delivery partners at regional aerodromes across South Australia,” said Tony Vaughan ASM, Chief Executive of RFDS Central Operations, pictured (centre) with Bill Russon, President, Mt Gambier RFDS Support Group, and District Council of Grant Acting CEO, Jane Fetherstonhaugh.

“The RFDS is focused on driving continual improvement in our care for every patient and at every touchpoint, and we’re delighted that the community has come on board and supported this landmark project every step of the way,” Mr Vaughan said.

“We directed the $70,000 donation received back in May from our Mount Gambier RFDS Support Group towards the purchase of the hangar, and the District Council of Grant has been fantastic in waiving costs and offering in-kind services now and into the future,” he said.

District Council of Grant Acting CEO Jane Fetherstonhaugh said the Council was proud to support the project by providing civil services to the building and waiving rent/lease charges on a long-term basis.

“Council identify this as a landmark project, setting a new standard for patient transport and have entered into a peppercorn lease arrangement for a period of twenty one years with the RFDS,” Mrs Fetherstonhaugh said.

“This means that Council will waive the cost of utilities, lease fees, rates and other costs associated with the lease of the land to support the RFDS in providing this critical service,” she said.

RFDS staff on tarmac

Once the hangar is refurbished, the RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility will feature:

  • stabilisation bay for retrieval teams to manage deteriorating patients prior to flight;
  • climate controlled environment for the transfer of patients between SA Ambulance (SAAS) and RFDS crews;
  • weather protection for the loading of patients into aircraft during extreme weather conditions;
  • spacious floorplan to accommodate multiple patients and crews at the same time;
  • modern amenities such as a private patient bathroom and crew rest areas;
  • aircraft hangar to provide an undercover area with optimum artificial lighting for engineers to perform unscheduled aircraft maintenance; and 
  • secure parking to protect ambulances stationed at the facility.
RFDS/SAAS Crew on tarmac

SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) will also support the new facility and patients by locating an ambulance at the RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility for use by RFDS and SAAS MedSTAR retrieval teams. This additional capacity will ensure patients are transferred in a timely manner with minimal impact on ambulance resources in Mount Gambier.

Andrew Thomas, Operations Manager, SAAS, said the RFDS was a highly valued service-delivery partner, and the hangar redevelopment would ensure those living in the Lower South East will continue to access the very best health care. 

“The significant investment by the RFDS in this important infrastructure, supported by the SAAS contribution of an ambulance on site, will enable RFDS and SAAS MedSTAR teams to jointly deliver a better patient experience and more seamless patient journey,” said Mr Thomas, pictured with RFDS Pilot Gerrit Koldenhof.

Supporters at RFDS Hangar

Overall works for the RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility project are budgeted at $500,000, and include the purchase of the existing hangar, concrete flooring and all related structural and refurbishment costs. 

Ahrens Group Pty Ltd has been awarded the head contractor of the design, construction and refurbishment project, and local trades will be sourced wherever possible to complete the works.

“Just like our aircraft and medical equipment, this infrastructure will be funded solely by our fundraising and donations from the community,” Mr Vaughan said.

“Today we are launching a local fundraising campaign that will see all donations received from the Lower South East region between now and Christmas directed to completing the RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility project,” he said.

“In addition to monetary support, we are also seeking support from local trades such as electrical, carpentry, painting and air-conditioning, which can provide in-kind professional services and make significant cost-savings to the project.”

The refurbishment work is scheduled to commence within weeks, and it is anticipated the facility will be fully operational by the New Year.

(CAPTION: Selling agent David Herbert, Herbert Commercial, and hangar vendor Amanda de Bruin, de Bruin Group, presented donations to launch the capital-raising campaign to RFDS Executive General Manager Marketing & Stakeholder Relations, Charlie Paterson, and Bill Russon, President, Mt Gambier RFDS Support Group, with Matt Kain, Herbert Commercial)