RFDS crew standing in front of aircraft

Regional Patient Transfer Facility marks first 100 days

Date published

01 Sep 2020

The RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility – the first of its kind in regional South Australia – has completed its first 100 days of service to the community.

One of South Australia's most significant community initiatives in the past year, the landmark project has also been recognised with the Innovation Award in the 2020 SA Health Supplier Awards.

More than 800 South East individuals and businesses donated over $400,000 cash and in-kind services to help the RFDS create the first Patient Transfer Facility in regional South Australia.

RFDS crews land twice a day in South Australia’s South East region – 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.

RFDS Mt Gambier Patient Transfer Facility

To improve patient comfort and care, the RFDS purchased an existing aircraft hangar on site in late 2019, refurbishing half the structure into an indoor patient care facility and retaining the other half as a traditional hangar for aircraft parking.

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

Over its first 100 days of operation, RFDS crews landed 158 times in Mt Gambier, of which it rained on 43 of these days and only once the minimum temperature exceeded 10 degrees Celsius.

The significant infrastructure investment by the RFDS has been supported by the SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) contribution of an ambulance on site which will enable RFDS and SAAS MedSTAR teams to improve response times and jointly deliver a better patient experience.

Aircraft inside hangar

Among the local contributors, businesses Barry Maney Group and Mount Gambier & District Community Bank (Bendigo Bank) made major cash donations to help the RFDS to complete the project.

Head contractor Ahrens Group demonstrated significant cash and in-kind support during construction, supported by in-kind contributions from local painter Greg Saunders and his assistant Aaron Knowles, concreter Angas Roulston and Dulux Paints’ Dean Flett, who donated the paint for the interior and hangar floor. 

Significant financial contribution from corporate supporters have included SA Power Networks, Origin Energy, MGA Insurance Brokers, Beach Energy and Mount Gambier City Council. To support the ongoing maintenance of the facility, the District Council of Grant has waived the cost of utilities, lease fees, rates and other costs associated with the lease of the land.

Enhancing patient care and operational response times for critical patients, the converted hangar provides a fully-equipped undercover facility for RFDS and SAAS MedSTAR crews to stabilise patients prior to flight.

Previously, patients were transferred onto aircraft directly from the tarmac at all hours of the day and in all weather extremes.RFDS Central Operations chief executive Tony Vaughan ASM said the project had been strongly backed by locals from the outset.

“This facility is a landmark, long-term asset for the community - fully funded by the Flying Doctor through the support of the RFDS Mount Gambier & District Support Group and many passionate South East groups, businesses and individuals,” he said. 

“We look forward to inviting all donors to a launch event once COVID-19 restrictions permit to thank the community in person for their generous support.”

RFDS Flight Nurse with stretcher

The RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility features:

  • a stabilisation bay for retrieval teams to manage deteriorating patients prior to flight;
  • a climate controlled environment and weather protection for the transfer of patients between SA Ambulance and RFDS crews;
  • spacious floorplan to accommodate multiple patients and crews at the same time;
  • aircraft hangar to provide an undercover area with artificial lighting for engineers to perform unscheduled aircraft maintenance; and 
  • secure parking to protect ambulances stationed at the facility.