Q & A with Scott Wooton

When minutes matter — Mercy Flight’s executive vice president talks about an organization that’s called when crises happen

By Brenda Alesii

Tucked away on Amherst Villa Road in Cheektowaga, the site of the former Flying Tigers Restaurant that thrived here many years ago, sits the headquarters for Mercy Flight. The agency also operates bases in Batavia, Olean, Springville, Hamlin and Niagara and Orleans counties.

Established in 1981, Mercy Flight, a nonprofit organization, provides both ground and air medically-directed transportation in a safe, rapid, cost-effective delivery service.

In Good Health recently spoke with Alden resident Scott Wooton, executive vice president at Mercy Flight. A University at Buffalo graduate, Wooton has been with Mercy Flight for some 15 years.

Q. What types of medical delivery services does Mercy Flight utilize and how expensive is it for a patient, as your motto declares, “when minutes matter”?

A. We have a variety of vehicles, including helicopters, fly-cars and ambulances. Our aircraft maintenance hangar is located at our headquarters. If long-distance air transport is required, we work with a jet charter company.

When people call us, it often happens during the worst times of their lives — an accident, an illness, any type of emergency. I want to emphasize that we provide care in a compassionate way and offer our services regardless of one’s ability to pay. We don’t want to make already stressful situations worse by having patients worry about how they are going to pay for our services. So, we offer a very generous charity care program to our patients.

Q. Why do people call Mercy Flight?

A. It could be something as simple as experiencing shortness of breath or it could be an obviously life-threatening event. We deal with a lot of traumatic situations. For instance, if there is a serious car accident in an outlying area or if an individual is experiencing a life-threatening illness like an abdominal aortic aneurysm for example, where out-of-hospital time has to be minimal, we will be contacted. The patient needs rapid transport and the highest level of care, and to be taken to a hospital that’s designed to handle such cases.

We strive to have all three of our air bases open 24/7/365 and our ground ambulance crews work virtually nonstop.

Q. What type of medical personnel are on board the copter, plane or ambulance?

A. Our team works in a tandem of care. Our ambulances are staffed with EMTs and paramedics according to the desired level of service. In the helicopter, in addition to the pilot, a registered flight nurse and flight paramedic are on board. Each of those individuals needs years of critical care experience before he or she can fly. The bar is set high for pilots as well — they are required to have at least 2,000 hours of flight experience in helicopters. Ninety percent of our pilots are military-trained. The others are civilian-trained.

Q. What area does Mercy Flight serve?

A. We cover all eight counties of Western New York and three counties in Northwest Pennsylvania.

Q. How is your company funded?

A. Primarily fee-for-service. We bill insurance companies for the level of ambulance service provided. And as a nonprofit, we are able to accept charitable contributions. We couldn’t do all we do without donations.  We have a robust charity program for uninsured or under-insured patients, who are often experiencing one of the most difficult hardships of their lives.

Q. I understand you have a fundraiser planned for September, among others.

A. Yes, our BASH fundraiser is scheduled for Sept. 23 at Buffalo RiverWorks. It’s a huge production and a lot of fun. Presented by West-Herr, the event features food tastings from about a dozen local restaurants for VIPs, live music, fireworks and an opportunity to meet our crew and get a better idea of how we help people.

In addition, we greatly appreciate our other fundraisers throughout the year, including the Alden Car Show and the Riding Lions Motorcycle run.

Q. Are you hiring?

A. Yes. Please visit www.mercyflight.org and click the “Join Our Team” tab. There is nationally a shortage of EMTs and paramedics, so we always encourage people to get involved in EMS and join our mission.