News & Features

Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation Looks to Secure Future of A.L.E.R.T.

Foundation completed campaign in 2018 to purchase new helicopter, now turns attention to next 10 years

After completing its $4 million campaign in 2018 to replace an aging A.L.E.R.T. helicopter with a new craft, the Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation enters 2019 with an updated 10-year fundraising vision for the nonprofit air ambulance service.

“It’s a fresh start,” foundation President Tagen Vine said last week. “Now we start raising funds — banquet donations, year-end gifts, endowment donations, all those things — to start helping us build up funds so in 10 years when we have to replace this aircraft, we’re ready to go. We’re just planning ahead.”

In a year-end letter to donors, Vine also touted the August full opening of the revamped and modernized Kalispell Regional Healthcare emergency room and trauma center, an expansive project for which the foundation raised $14 million. That fundraising campaign ended in 2016.

The foundation launched its campaign to buy a Bell 407GXP helicopter, called the N407VS in honor of former CEO Velinda Stevens, because its aging Bell 407 was growing outdated and needing costly maintenance. The need grew more urgent in 2016 when the Bell 407 was down for 105 days for maintenance and the leased replacement no longer complied with new Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

The new Bell 407GXP began operating in July 2017, but the foundation still needed to raise funds to cover the craft’s costs. About half of the $4 million total goal was raised between April 2017 and April 2018, culminating at the 40th annual A.L.E.R.T. banquet on April 21. The rest had come over a number of years.

In its first year of service, from July 2017 to July 2018, the Bell 407GXP completed approximately 395 flight hours and transported 317 patients, 65 of whom were considered “life salvages,” meaning that without rapid air medical transport the patient may not have survived.

The old helicopter — which pilots call the “legacy” aircraft — is still used as a backup for when the Bell 407GXP undergoes routine maintenance.

“It ran some missions over the last summer,” Vine said. “There were a couple lives saved with that backup helicopter that wouldn’t have happened without that air service.”

A.L.E.R.T. also leases a fixed-wing plane in addition to its helicopters.

“With the evolution of the pediatrics program at KRMC and adult patients coming from further and further away we need our air ambulances, both rotor and fixed wing, more than ever,” Vine said.

A.L.E.R.T. frequently flies into Glacier National Park and maintains a close working relationship with park rangers. There were 11 requests for flights into the park in July of last year, and the air ambulance completed 82 total flights into Glacier over the year, transporting 52 patients altogether.

The volume of transported pediatric patients continues to increase, according to a donor-impact report. Due to this growth, the flight team presented the need to purchase two ReVel Transport Ventilators to the A.L.E.R.T. board, which approved funding for both ventilators — one each for the fixed wing and rotor — for a total price of $31,935.

The report also noted that the flight team is grateful to the Weyerhaeuser Foundation for a grant of $6,876 to purchase active-noise reduction kits to be integrated into the crew’s current flight helmets.

Vine praised the community for supporting A.L.E.R.T. for over four decades.

“That’s a long time for this community to continue to support a great program,” Vine said. “And people have continued to be generous, recognizing that to secure the future of the program we need to continue to build up and prepare for the future.”

A.L.E.R.T. Facts

-A.L.E.R.T. stands for Advanced Life-support Emergency Rescue Team.

-A.L.E.R.T. is the second oldest air medical transport program and the oldest rural-hospital program in the country, established in 1975.

-Service area extends west to Spokane, just south of Missoula, just east of Cut Bank and north to the Canadian border.

-A.L.E.R.T. is automatically dispatched for specific 911 calls. These calls consist of a smaller response area — east to Browning, west to Libby, south to Ronan and north to the Canadian border.

-Fuel for the helicopter costs more than $5 per gallon. The A.L.E.R.T. hangar contains a large fuel tank, which allows for purchasing fuel in larger quantities and keeps fuel cost down overall.

-Over the life of the A.L.E.R.T. program, 35 bear mauling victims have been served, more than any other air ambulance in the United States. Three of the 35 bear maulings occurred this year.

-In 1979, Dr. Van Kirke Nelson and Rosie Brester, RN, delivered a seven-pound baby flying 7,000 feet over Hungry Horse Reservoir. This was the first and only in-flight delivery on A.L.E.R.T.

Event Info

-The 41st Annual A.L.E.R.T. Banquet is April 27, 2019 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds Trade Center Building. For tickets or more information, call Lori Alsbury at (406) 752-1710.

-The A.L.E.R.T./Betty Woods Memorial Golf Tournament is July 13, 2019 at the Village Greens Golf Course. Please call the foundation office at (406) 751-6930 for more information.

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