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Donations put medevac flights back in the sky

Date Posted: 2009-06-18

Eleven months after a funding shortage grounded a medical helicopter based in Nago City, blades are turning and the medevac service reinstated to serve northern Okinawa and outlying islands.

The northern heliport was shut down last July after the government ran out of money to operate the service, which costs ¥100 million a year. Getting the service reinstated was a collaboration between the government, a non-profit organization foundation and donations from private citizens.

“We know the northern part of Okinawa’s medical environment is difficult right now,” says Nago City’s mayor, Kazuyoshi Shimabukuro, “but I would hope that each patient will be protected by this medical helicopter.” The helicopter is staffed by a qualified medical doctor and medical technicians on its flights across the archipelago, including Izena and Iheya islands, and the Kunigami and Ogimi areas.

A the MESH Support NPO Foundation, Masahiro Kohama, thanked the 100 people who turned out for the inaugural flight over the weekend, commending them for their support. He says there are 8,554 members in his MESH foundation, which has donated ¥5.99 million from businesses, a yearly membership fee and private donations.

Government subsidies, including one from the Prefecture for ¥2.6 million, brings to ¥85.9 million, less than the ¥100 million necessary to keep the medevac service flying to transport emergency patients to hospitals. The MESH Support NPO Foundation says it has contracted with the helicopter’s owner for six months service, and will operate the remaining half-year with additional private donations. Explaining the value and necessity of the service, Okinawa Prefecture pointed out that a physician-manned medevac helicopter operating from Yomitan Village flew 171 missions involving 150 patients over the past six months.

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