June 17, 2020

After a brief break in operations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Patient Air Lift Services (PALS) will once again begin its mission of arranging volunteer medical flights and free air transportation to minimize the burden on families.

“The decision to stop flying was a difficult one, but we decided it was too great a risk to put pilots and passengers in a small aircraft, especially with many volunteer pilots in a vulnerable age group and immunocompromised passengers,” said Brook Leighton, PALS director of development and marketing.

Before resuming flights, the PALS team consulted with experts in epidemiology and others to be sure their decision was sound and developed a number of flight protocols to mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The PALS Mission Coordination team will implement a number of pre-flight screening measures and volunteer pilots will be asked to take specific precautions before and during flight. Detailed protocols are available on the PALS website, but are subject to change as the organization continues to evaluate overall conditions, risks and effectiveness of mitigation measures.

In New York, the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services assisted with protective gear, including hand sanitizer and masks, to help PALS resume flights safely.

PALS continues to evaluate and monitor the variables surrounding the COVID-19 crisis and says the viability of each flight is a determined by a number of factors.

“This is an art – not a science,” said Leighton.

Demand for flights initially decreased during the height of the pandemic. Many non-urgent medical appointments were cancelled or postponed due to hospital restrictions and other factors. Karen Krolikowski, PALS director of operations and outreach, sees flight requests increasing as hospitals re-open and pent-up demand is addressed.

PALS recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and has completed more than 23,000 compassionate flights.