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Child in airplane in face mask. Virus outbreak.

Mercy Medical Angels: Free Transport for Critical Medical Care

Compassion is the driving force behind connecting patients who can’t afford to travel with long-distance healthcare.

Receiving a diagnosis of a life-threatening disease or serious health condition can be mind-numbing and difficult to accept. Aside from the emotional impact is the financial strain placed on the patient and their family. For millions of patients and veterans facing mounting medical costs, traveling great distances for medical care is not affordable. Traveling to get the help they need can make the difference between life and death. Sometimes the life-saving transport can be in the form of a bus ticket or flight to a distant destination. The need is great, and the call to fill the need is greater.

A Wing and a Prayer

In 1972, four men in Washington, D.C. stepped up to meet the challenge. They decided to offer free medical flights for those who could not afford it on their own and formed an organization called Mercy Medical Angels. They wanted to “remove the barrier to medical care with transportation on the ground and in the air.” Starting with a single small airplane, they made it their mission to restore patients’ health one flight at a time.

Over the years, donations enabled the organization to offer additional transportation modes through partnerships with commercial airlines and providing access to ground transit services. Operations expanded, and they were able to meet new needs for the seriously ill. Today, Mercy Medical Angels is the nation’s largest charitable transportation provider for those in need of medical care. They’ve provided over 250,000 trips and maintained a spotless 100% safety record after nearly half a century of service. Mercy Medical Angels has received Charity Navigator’s highest 4-Star rating, a Platinum Seal of Transparency by Guide Star, and Best in America recognition by America’s Best Charities.

In an average year, Mercy Medical Angels provides over 20,000 trips to national and international destinations. So far, in 2020, there have been 24,520 national and international trips providing access to necessary medical care for 8,399 children, 18,361 cancer patients, and 4,378 veterans. Over two-million miles have been logged just this year by commercial airlines, volunteer pilots, and ground transportation.

Robb Alpaugh is president and CEO of Mercy Medical Angels and has been an avid pilot since he was sixteen years old. He first joined the organization as a volunteer pilot and has flown over 3,000 hours. In an interview with The Virginian-Pilot, he says, “I’ve had a greater spiritual experience in this process than I could have in any other way. We’re in the business of saving others, and it’s the biggest paycheck you can imagine.”

Connecting to Medical Care

Mercy Medical Angels oversees several transportation programs designed for the specific needs of cancer patients, children, veterans, and their families. Additionally, the organization provides vital transportation for disaster response and homeland security emergencies. Transportation is also available in cases of urgent human need, such as giving a round-trip ticket for an international child to receive life-changing surgery in the U.S.

Long-distance ground transportation is available in the form of a commercial bus or Amtrak train ticket, or gas cards if a friend drives the patient. Commercial airline partners provide charitable or deep discount tickets for patients and their escorts. Volunteer pilots who own or rent small aircraft assist ambulatory patients through the organization’s Angel Flight MidAtlantic.

For wounded, ill, and injured veterans and active-duty members, along with their families, Mercy Medical Angels provides transportation services through their Angel Wings for Veterans. These individuals receive free travel to clinical care and therapies such as service dog acquisition, counseling, rehabilitation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, adaptive sports events, healing retreats, and PTS and TBI treatments. Mercy Medical Angels also provides transportation to train and acquire service dogs through their Angel Canines and Wounded Warriors. Veterans or active-duty service members who have already located a service animal can travel to train and bring home their service dog.

There is also a National Patient Travel Helpline that offers information about all forms of charitable, long-distance medical transportation and can make referrals to sources within the national charitable medical transportation network.

Incalculable Impact

Mercy Medical Angels operates through the support of foundations, institutions, corporations, and individuals. Whether support is through volunteer pilots providing free medical flights, direct donations, funding support, clinical partners, or raising awareness, all share the same goal of giving back to the community.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, an overwhelming increase in people in need of medical care and suffering financial loss caused an explosive demand for Mercy Medical Angels services. But with airline carriers canceling flights and the volunteer pilot program pausing operations due to health and safety concerns, resources to help those in need have been stretched to the limit. The organization reached out to request donations and assistance to continue providing life-saving services during this difficult period.

Despite the challenges, the impact Mercy Medical Angels has on the lives of those they serve is undeniable. We may never hear of the life-saving work being done every day by Mercy Medical Angels, but their clients, volunteers, and those they work with give testament and gratitude for their precious work. As one professional in the field attests, “Mercy Medical Airlift followed through with assistance when no other organization was able to help. I appreciated their professionalism and willingness to go the extra mile, even with little notice. Our patient will now receive the necessary medical follow-up vital to her recovery.”

Restoring hope and health is what it is all about. For more information on Mercy Medical Angels and how you can help, visit mercymedical.org.