By Jane T. Ahrens
Fishers Island could be viewed at times as any very small remote town in America. We have access, for instance, to most basic services that anyone could need including exceptional medical care through Island Health Project (IHP). However, there are occasions when the resources required are not available on this narrow strip off the coast of Connecticut, and many considerations come into play as part of New York State. One of them is Hospice care.
It might be assumed that Hospice care providers could come to Fishers from near by Connecticut, but they must be registered under New York State. So it gets a bit more complicated, and at times inconvenient, because of the travel time from Suffolk County.
For every problem, a solution can be found.
Angel Flight Northeast is a non-profit, volunteer organization that serves patients and families in 9 states from Pennsylvania to Maine. Most often patients and their family members who cannot get to a medical facility by conventional means – by car or public transportation – use the service. In the case of Fishers Island they also fly Hospice caregivers to the patient on the island.
All flights are offered completely free as Angel Flight NE has never refused anyone in need. They serve patients nationwide through a partnership with other air charities and airlines. Approximately 40% of the patients are children, suffering from life-threatening cancers, severe burns or crippling diseases. And, they will fly people for as long and as often as they need to travel, with no limit whatsoever to the number of flights provided. The volunteer pilots use their own aircraft and donate their time, talent, airplane, fuel, and operating expenses.
How did Angel Flight NE come to land on Fishers?
With the urging of their oncologist, a Fishers Island family learned about Angel Flight NE with the resource assistance of Social Services in Southold and IHP’s relationship with East End Hospice in Westhampton Beach, NY. The hospice nurses from the North Fork currently come to the island once a week.
Angel Flight’s volunteer pilots on recent runs are based north of Hartford and in eastern Massachusetts. They meet the caregivers in Suffolk County and make the short flight together. Arriving before noon at our island airport, Elizabeth Field, the team is greeted by the family and taken to the house. There the caregivers tend to the patient as the pilot waits for the flight back.
On a recent visit, I had the opportunity to sit down with pilot Martin Legault and find out more. He shared that he has flown over 75 Angel Flight missions since joining the organization in 2003. He averages about one a month. Based in Hartford, CT, he has flown many flights departing Boston and serving patients from as far south as Maryland, and north to Maine.
Marty has been a pilot since 1965 when he joined the Army after going through ROTC training at UConn. He flew helicopters for a year in Vietnam and stopped flying in 1970. Following a different career, he renewed his pilot’s license in 1980. The day we visited he was flying a 4-seat, single engine 1979 Cessna Skylane 182, which he said is ideally suited for this type of mission – able to carry four people (including luggage) and land on the short Elizabeth Field runway.
Angel Flight’s certified volunteer pilots are able to apply for fuel reimbursement and a tax credit for their flying expenses including plane maintenance. Charitable donations to Angel Flight NE help to cover these costs, which in turn benefit those patients in remote locations.
East End Hospice nurse Aimee Whalen (another angel) traveled with Marty the day we met, having enjoyed her first small craft flight on a most beautiful clear winter day. The 7-minute flight certainly beat the last time she made the 12-hour round trip from Suffolk County to her patient on Fishers, having taken 4 ferries in one long day. Aimee visits Fishers weekly, spending time with her patient, checking vitals, medications, and diet. She also works closely with family members and on island caregivers to ensure the patient is comfortable and having their needs met in her absence.
Hospice care augments the medical care provided by our Island Health Project doctor and nurses. It is an important gift to those patients and their families.
“As a nurse and one of the health care providers on Island, I know how essential the services are that East End Hospice and Angel Flight NE provide to our community. We are so lucky to have their support and expertise.” ~ Dee Ross, RN
Grateful – to East End Hospice and Angel Flight NE for making Fishers Island community members feel a bit closer to the care they may need.
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