UW News

January 28, 2010

Airlift Northwest Executive Director Chris Martin is off to a flying start

Chris Martin, the new executive director of Airlift Northwest, didn’t hit the ground running when she came on board in March. She took flight!


“I committed to the staff when I first took this job that I would fly with them. It was the only way for me to fully understand what the crew does,” Martin said.


After 23 years overseeing emergent care as the administrative director of emergency services at Harborview Medical Center, Martin was used to being at the receiving end of Airlift Northwest’s transports. Flying with her new team gives her a totally different perspective.


“Although I had always been incredibly impressed with how professional and excellent the critical care nurses were when I was at Harborview, watching them in action speaks volumes,” she said. “Watching the nurses, the pilot and staff work seamlessly in emergent situations in such a tightly confined space, gives new meaning to providing critical care in the air. My goal is to continue to fly at least once a month.”


Martin’s operational and strategic goals were to bring financial stability to the organization in a rough economy and “to do a lot of outreach” to educate the public and providers about the services of Airlift Northwest.


So far, Martin has visited all of Airlift Northwest’s bases (Juneau, Alaska; and Seattle, Arlington, Bellingham and Olympia, Wash.) and many of the pre-hospital providers, such as fire departments and emergency medical services, and hospital providers in the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) region.


“We’re talking with hospital administrators and emergency directors about the best ways to meet the needs of patients in a timely and affordable fashion. We’re looking at which providers would be natural partners in the WWAMI region. That’s part of our strategic plan.”


One of the services that Airlift Northwest provides is AirCare, a membership service for residents in western Washington and Southeast Alaska.


Airlift Northwest AirCare was developed to provide communities in Alaska and Washington with high-quality air medical service at the most affordable cost. While Medicare and some insurance policies may provide partial coverage for air ambulance transport charges, many do not. Under the AirCare program, when Airlift Northwest is requested by a medical facility or an emergency response team to fly a critically ill or injured patient to appropriate medical care, the portion of the Airlift Northwest bill that isn’t covered by insurance or Medicare is paid through membership.


For outlying areas, AirLift Northwest is a lifeline to complex critical care for trauma, cardiac or stroke. Its services are especially vital in these cases because of the time constraints in delivering definitive care.


“Many people don’t know that we receive no tax-based funding like many fire departments and emergency medical services. We are a not-for-profit. All of our revenues go to cover expenses and go into operations — providing aircraft, pilots, mechanics, nurses and staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”


Martin said that what she enjoys most about her new job is similar to what she enjoyed about her job at Harborview: the people and the mission.


“At Harborview we provided top-notch medical care to anyone, no matter what. At Airlift Northwest, we fly anyone, no matter what. Both are regional gems, that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”