September marked the first 100 days of the RFDS Mount Gambier Patient Transfer Facility, designed and delivered to keep patients protected from the elements before and after aeromedical transfers.
One of South Australia's most significant community initiatives in the past year, the first-of-its-kind facility was also recognised with the Innovation Award in the 2020 SA Health Supplier Awards.
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.
Before the construction of the undercover Patient Transfer Facility, South East patients were transferred onto aircraft directly from the tarmac at all hours of the day and in all weather extremes.
It rained on 43 of the new facility’s first 100 days of operation as RFDS crews landed in Mount Gambier 148 times to assist patients, and the minimum temperature only once exceeded 10 degrees Celcius.
RFDS Central Operations chief executive Tony Vaughan ASM said the project was strongly backed by locals wanting to give families and friends peace of mind that their loved ones would be well cared for before and after their journeys to access life-saving treatment.
“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.
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 now assists both RFDS and SAAS MedSTAR crews to stabilise a deteriorating patient more effectively prior to flight and ensuring patient transfers into the aircraft are made under cover and protected from extremes of weather.
This 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.
More than 800 South East individuals and businesses donated more than $400,000 in cash and in-kind support to ensure the new facility was created.
Among local contributors, businesses Barry Maney Group and Mount Gambier & District Community Bank (pictured above with RFDS supporters) made major cash donations to help complete the project.
Head contractor Ahrens Group gave cash and in-kind support during construction, supported by in-kind contributions from local painters Greg Saunders and Aaron Knowles, concreter Angas Roulston and Dulux Paints’ Dean Flett, who donated 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.
The RFDS Patient Transfer Facility features:
- Stabilisation bay for retrieval teams to manage deteriorating patients prior to flight
- 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
- Secure parking to protect ambulances stationed at the facility