Life Flight Network, the air program that offers helicopter transport for medical emergencies, will make a more permanent landing in Walla Walla.
In a social media post last Friday, the nonprofit program announced its intention to transition its local auxiliary base to active status.
The change will bring a round-the-clock presence of a care team, along with the stationing of an AgustaWestland AW119 Koala single-turbine helicopter to town.
The timeline for the expansion remains unclear. Although talked about for some time with the Port of Walla Walla, the announcement is a public confirmation of the project. Numerous details remain.
Life Flight officials were not available for comment.
Walla Walla Regional Airport Manager Jennifer Skoglund said the agency contacted the Port, which operates the airport, late last week about the announcement.
She said the operation leases a hangar at the airport. But expanding with an active base would include quarters, where staff can stay while waiting to be called out on duty.
“For the community, it’s just another positive piece to the puzzle when it comes to medical care when time is of the essence,” Skoglund said.
Life Flight makes about 450 flights in and out of Providence St. Mary Medical Center in a year, hospital officials say.
Founded in 1978, Life Flight offers ICU-level care during air transport. Its services are offered across the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West.
Skoglund said notification of the change went out to frontline workers and emergency services partners.
“That’s good news for us,” Port Executive Director Patrick Reay said. “That means new jobs, probably better service, hopefully longevity to the community, better response time.”
The announcement was also welcomed by local providers and emergency responders.
“We welcome Life Flight to our community given the critical role they play for medical care in the community, both in bringing us patients needing our care and in helping some of our community members find the higher level they require,” said Dr. Christopher Hall, chief medical officer for Providence St. Mary Medical Center.
“We are looking forward to working with them more closely as they consider a base in Walla Walla or possibly even at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.”
Life Flight began as one of the first hospital-based air ambulances on the West Coast when it started as Emanuel Life Flight in a program owned and operated by what is now Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.
Fifteen years later, it merged with Airfare, a Providence Health System program.
It changed its name to Life Flight Network, reflecting a decision at the time of Portland’s three largest health care providers to jointly own and operate the network, according to history of the operation.
Under a strategic decision in 2006, Life Flight’s governance switched from the hospital structure as it became its own entity.
Since then it has grown with the merger of Boise-based Saint Alphonsus Life Flight in 2009 and Northwest MedStar in 2016.