Jessica Ames, programs and events coordinator (left), and Madeleine Beck, flight coordinator for Angel Flight East in Blue Bell, are surrounded by boxes of protective facial shields their volunteer …
by Len Lear
Normally, dozens of volunteer pilots from the Philadelphia area would be flying patients who desperately need the finest medical care but cannot afford it to Philadelphia's top hospitals at no expense. The planes would leave and arrive at Wings Field in Blue Bell, thanks to a wonderful nonprofit organization called Angel Flight East (AFE), which flies an average of 900 to 950 “angel flights” in the Northeastern U.S. each year.
However, because of the pandemic, AFE stopped these flights on March 24, but their angelic mission has not abated. They learned from their contacts that many medical facilities in smaller communities in numerous states did not have nearly enough critical protective equipment for their frontline medical staffs, so AFE swung into action. They contacted Instahub, a startup led by Penn's Wharton School students and engineering students who won an Ivy League prize in 2018 “to build a scalable, sustainable social enterprise that (would harness) the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025.”
Instahub founder and CEO Michael Wong said last week that when he got this request, his company “halted our own operation and shifted production to make 4,000 facial shields.” Tiffany Yau, another Penn grad and Instahub spokesperson, added, “It's important that we get these to those who need them the most, especially in areas that are so often forgotten.”
Madeleine Beck, flight coordinator for AFE, said last week, “We are so blessed to have dozens of pilots who are willing to make these flights for free. To date, we have delivered over 50,000 face shields. This week we have 800 shields headed to West Virginia from one manufacturer and are waiting on the final number from the other. We are working with Project SHIELDS (Instahub) and Philly Fights COVID. KIKI Vodka is the supplier of the vodka-turned sanitizer. Project SHIELDS was initially donating them but is now charging $3 a shield so they can continue making more. Philly Fights COVID is donation-based but only a max order of 250.”
The local pilots are being met by representatives from smaller federally qualified health centers. So far they have delivered to 11 states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey and Oklahoma.
“The number of flights depends on the amount delivered,” said Beck. “For example, the flights we are doing where we ship hand sanitizer take many pilots because the liquids are heavier. Those took us five pilots for about 4,000 pounds. We have a flight leaving on Thursday to West Virginia and one on Saturday to New York.”
AFE currently has 454 volunteer pilots. “Our pilots assume the entire cost of the flights,” said Beck. “We are able to get landing fees waived and sometimes a discount on fuel. We do it all strictly from donations and fundraising, which goes to office costs. Think of the office staff as travel agents. We connect all the dots for everyone.”
Angel Flight East was founded in Pennsylvania by Harry Morales, a general aviation pilot, who wanted to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. He created AFE with the help of friends. Their vision and commitment to the principles of public benefit flying developed into AFE. Immediately, AFE began to fill the gap between the need to access crucial medical care at a distance and the high cost of transportation to get there.
In 1993, the first year of operations, AFE’s small band of new volunteer pilots flew 17 flights. In the last fiscal year, they completed 926 flights.
Adam Zucker, a volunteer pilot, said they will normally transfer people far from home who cannot afford the care they need. “We have a deep connection to the passengers. Almost like family. We had to stop flying them now because we don't want to give it (Covid-19) to them, and we don't want it coming back to us.”
For more information or to donate, visit angelmedflight.com or call 215-358-1900. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com