With Patients' Lives in the Balance,
Mercy Flight's Dispatchers Answer the Call



During a medical emergency, every decision our personnel makes can contribute significantly to our patient's outcome. That responsibility never leaves the thoughts of the Communications Specialists in the Mercy Flight Communications Center. 

Peter West, Mercy Flight's Communications Supervisor, reiterates the magnitude his reaction will have on a patient's life, "When a call comes into the Communications Center for a flight request, you don't know if it is for an on-scene incident or a hospital to hospital transfer. Either way you know the requestor is calling because the patient is critical and needs rapid air medical transport to the most appropriate medical facility." 

Working behind the scenes, the Communications Specialists dictate the course of response for a patient suffering from traumatic injuries or a serious illness, which includes dispatching Mercy Flight's fleet of ground vehicles, helicopters, or fixed-wing jet.

While dispatching our fleet, additional requests may come in for our Communications Specialists to answer, making the dispatch process very challenging, and requiring West, Cervoni and our other Communications Specialists to multitask by talking, typing, and listening all at the same time — referred to by Peter as, "split hearing."

"Split hearing" is necessary because it's almost certain that multiple incoming requests for Mercy Flight will occur during any given shift. With everything going on in the Communications Center, West stresses the importance of teamwork in the emotionally demanding environment:
Minutes really do matter when Mercy Flight is contacted. Our helicopters can only be requested by Hospitals, Police, Fire and EMS agencies through established communications procedures.

"Nearly all of the phone calls made to Mercy Flight come into the Communications Center," West explains. "I feel the Communications Specialists play an important role in providing the first line of customer service to anyone who is contacting Mercy Flight." 

Dispatching ambulances is one thing, but dispatching helicopters adds another dimension to the work performed by the Communications Specialists. . Paul Cervoni, another of Mercy Flight's dedicated Communications Specialists, agrees, "It's just not the same as dispatching ambulances, there is so much more detail obtained during call intake in order to meet the needs of both the pilot and the medical team. In addition we need to have knowledge of both medical and aviation terms and pay close attention to detail during the flight following phases of a mission"

"During the dispatch process, you have to maintain a level of calmness and make the caller feel their request is the only one going on, even though that is often not the case. You have to be careful not to miss any pertinent information about the location, patient condition, or any other special instructions. It can at times appear to be hectic to a visitor but through teamwork between the two Mercy Flight communications specialists and with the support of and communication with the caller, everything gets handled efficiently."

Cervoni also describes a zone he enters while dispatching the appropriate resources to a patient. He says his "adrenaline flows," and everything goes out of his mind except getting to the patient.

In the event of these unfortunate situations, West acknowledges Mercy Flight's response serves as a "Beacon of Hope" for the medical personnel involved at the scene or hospital. "Anytime we send a helicopter to a scene that sounds very chaotic on the radio, and hear our crew reach out to the ground contact for location information and patient report, you can tell from the voice of the ground contact there is a sigh of relief that Mercy Flight is overhead."

Cervoni explains that dispatchers' responsibilities continue far after dispatching Mercy Flight's fleet to a scene. "You may have multiple calls going on; multiple aircraft in going to different hospitals and in some cases, the same hospital. Safety is our number one priority so we coordinate so that everyone is aware of each other's location."

When asked about the feeling of knowing he had a role in saving someone's life, West responds, "You get a feeling of accomplishment knowing you played a small part in the mission. Being part of a team that gets higher level of care to the patient regardless of the outcome is rewarding in itself."

On a similar note, Cervoni voices the impact his career in Emergency Medical Services —which has spanned more than three decades — has had on him personally. "After 34 years of EMS experience, there is no better feeling than knowing I am a part of this job. Our Executive Vice President, Margaret Ferrentino, often reminds us that every single person working at Mercy Flight, regardless of their role, touches each and every mission."