It's been a busy time for everyone at Life Flight, adjusting to the new ‘normal’, especially for Chief Executive Mark Johnston. With COVID-19 affecting the way we work, fly and fundraise, there have been many challenges to overcome.
One key challenge for Mark has been with managing the different ways of communicating across the organisation; with the Management team, Support team, Flight teams and our amazing community of donors and sponsors. Life Flight’s crew have been continuing to work at the base, however the Operations and Support teams moved overnight into working remotely, a very sudden adjustment for everybody.
Looking at how Life Flight has coped overall during the crisis, Mark couldn’t be prouder. He says the entire organisation has done the absolute best that it can to ensure continued safe missions for both patients and crew. In the face of a very stressful period with much cause for concern, the entire team stepped up to get the new ‘normal’ in place quickly and smoothly. For Mark, a priority was, “making sure that the teams who are flying feel fully supported on the way through this. It’s just about maintaining that connection.”
In addition to finding a new rhythm for managing such a hands-on organisation almost entirely through video calls, Mark put his hand up to be a Crew Assist, a new role created to support the on-duty Flight crew during a potential COVID-19 mission. With a slight decrease in the number of available Flight crew during lockdown due to a variety of health and safety factors, there was an obvious need for extra help with transferring sick patients and the intensive decontamination processes after potential COVID-19 missions.
Alongside Safety Systems Manager Craig Redpath, Mark was rostered onto rolling 24 hour shifts to cover a full day in case assistance was needed for any potential COVID-19 missions. Mark has since assisted on a mission in one of Life Flight’s Air Ambulance Planes, transferring a potentially infected patient from Blenheim to Nelson Hospital.
This was an eye-opening experience in itself, being Mark’s first time on a live mission since joining Life Flight as Chief Executive last year. “I’ve now experienced it from the Flight team’s perspective and that gives me an even greater insight, and respect, for what everyone does on a daily basis.”
Throughout these huge changes, Mark noted that teamwork came to the fore. Everyone took the time to follow the stricter safety protocols that were put in place in response to COVID-19, using thorough checklists and communicating really clearly at every stage throughout each mission. “It’s a very systematic process. You’re working in a really structured way, particularly when you’re cleaning the aircraft after each mission, starting from the front of the cabin, then slowly working your way back. The pilots disinfect the cockpit, while you’re doing the rest of the cabin and all of the portable lifting equipment used to safely transfer the patient.”
When asked how he felt prior to that first job, Mark said, “I was just happy to be able to help out. I wouldn’t ask anyone at life flight to anything I wasn’t prepared to do. I was just trying to do what I know the team do day-in and day-out, and I absolutely trusted in the training and experience of the other members of the Flight team.”
A hugely positive outcome during this challenging time has been seeing an outpouring of community support for emergency services and healthcare workers alike.
“One of the things that’s very special about Life Flight is the teamwork. That’s the Flight Crew, Support teams, supporters, donors, partners and the wider community. Right now, it’s a wee bit different because you haven’t got that close physical contact that we’ve all enjoyed previously, but everyone’s still pulled together really well.”
It all hasn’t been smooth sailing however, as Life Flight’s community events have taken a huge hit due to cancellation or postponement. The emergency service is now looking at an approximate $1m plus fundraising shortfall over the next 6-9 months. “We need support from the community now more than ever, and it’s been absolutely fantastic to see some of that support coming through. I realise it’s tough for a lot of people right now, but if you are able to give, we’d be extremely grateful to receive any donations, no matter how big or small they might be.”