A huge event has occurred in the past few weeks that I have been remiss in not writing about. For the last year or so, all of the air ambulance flights that Flying Mission has been doing have been subcontracted to Netcare, which is a healthcare provider that won the Ministry of Health contract when it was first tendered two years ago (it had been a huge disappointment to Flying Mission when they hadn’t won that tender, although they ended up doing the flights anyway when Netcare defaulted on their contract). However, the Ministry of Health recently put the contract out for tender again and Flying Mission of course applied. After a long period of uncertainty, we learned early last week that Flying Mission had won the contract this time around, giving us some stability for the next few years and more control over the whole process since we now hire the paramedics and act as the call center for ambulance flights. The announcement of the contract was big news, and we were all very excited to hear that. It has meant a lot of work setting everything up and ironing out the details, but things are going quite smoothly considering the rapidity with which we had to start up.
One of the things that is changing is that pilots who are on standby will now be acting as “flight coordinators” outside of normal business hours, meaning that we will receive the calls from the hospital and do all of the phoning and coordinating that needs to happen for a flight (Mark and Bob, the managers, used to always do that, but we’re helping to share the load now). Since I’m not flying at all (and since I’ve basically been acting as the secretary anyway for the past few days since Kgomotso is sick), I’ve taken over the job for the first few evenings. Tonight was the first night that I’ve really handled an after-hours call, and it was a busy one. Here’s a rundown of the process: I received the call from Maun hospital and learned that they had three patients needing transport. I had to tell them we can only take two at a time, so if all needed to be done tonight we’d have to do two trips. She would call back when they decided what to do. I called the pilots and told them about the flight, called the paramedics, called Maun back to get details on the patients’ condition, filled the paramedics in on the patients, heard from Maun that they only would move two patients tonight and would have to go to Francistown instead of back here to Gabs, called pilots and told them where they were going, called Maun and gave them the ETA there, called Francistown hospital to arrange for the ambulance to pick the patient up, called four lodges in Francistown until I found one with four rooms open, heard from Maun that one of the patients had died so they would take the other two, relayed that to paramedics, gave Francistown the ETA there, arranged for the pilots to be picked up at the airport by the lodge, and called a final time to be sure that the ambulance was leaving Francistown for the airport at the right time (you can never be too sure). Then all I had to do was wait for the pilots to text message me saying that they had arrived at Francistown (we do all our flight following by SMS), and I could breathe easy again. Needless to say, the whole thing kept me busy for about a solid one and a half hours and burned about $15 worth of phone minutes (cell phones use mostly prepaid minutes here). But it was fun to be involved in the whole process and make sure everything lined up the way it needed to. Most flights aren’t quite that crazy…this one had three patients involved and required the pilots and paramedics to overnight in Francistown. It’s satisfying to know that the flights we do for the Ministry of Health are helping people who really need it and even save some lives, although of course the less we fly the better it is. Better no accidents at all than helping people recover from them. It’s somewhat of a strange paradox when you depend on people getting hurt for your livelihood. Anyway, thanks for all of your emails and support…it’s all much appreciated. Love,