Mercy Flights was founded as a non-profit organization in 1949 by George Milligan, an air traffic controller in Medford, after a friend of his died of polio in Southern Oregon, unable to survive the long, slow ground transport to Portland
Through fundraising efforts by schoolchildren, scouts, and others in the community, George Milligan raised enough money to buy the first aircraft, a twin engine Cessna, which was known as the bamboo bomber. A "membership" program was established which provided people in the community an opportunity to contribute to Mercy Flights, while insuring that they would be financially covered in the event that they needed aero medical transportation.
As demand for these air transports grew, Mercy Flights responded to that need, adding additional aircraft and personnel to provide medical transportation as needed. To date, Mercy Flights has flown over 11,000 patients, and continues to provide this vital service to Southern Oregon.
In 1992, Mercy Flights purchased Medford Ambulance Service, expanding operations to include ground ambulance transportation. This acquisition combined the strengths of these two community service organizations, building on the varied background and experience of each. The decision to expand in this way followed discussions with both Rogue Valley Medical Center and Providence Hospital, which established the importance of building a regional medical transportation network. In 1993, Mercy Flights acquired Rogue Ambulance, expanding its service area to include the communities of White City, Eagle Point, and Shady Cove.
In the past, the outlying communities of Prospect and Butte Falls were served by all volunteer ambulance services, which were struggling with the financial difficulties of operating ambulances in the nineties. Through a cooperative effort, these First Responders and EMTs continue to serve their communities, but now do so as a valuable part of the Mercy Flights organization. These communities benefit from the assurance of consistent, professional EMS services and a stronger economic base, and the EMTs benefit through increased training, improved equipment, and some financial compensation for the crucial role they play.
As Mercy Flights has expanded over the years, the membership program has grown as well. The program now provides for coverage of air and/or ground ambulance transportation, and includes over 15,000 households, several of whom have been members since Mercy Flights’ inception.
In 1995, Mercy Flights and Timberland entered a joint effort to provide an emergency helicopter service available to all citizens and agencies within a 150-mile radius of Medford, further expanding the type of medical transportation provided. This added resource allows rapid transport for critical patients, as well as improved access to remote areas.
Mercy Flights has also committed to reaching out to young people in the communities we serve. As part of that effort, through the Boy Scouts of America, we sponsor an EMS specific Explorer post. Through this program, young people between the ages of 16 and 21 receive training and experience in EMS and are able to “explore” this as a career option. The young explorers are medically trained at a First Responder level and are used at large public events, scouting events, and disaster relief efforts such as the flooding problems experienced by Jackson County in January 1997.
BTS, LLC is the FAR Part 135 Certificate Holder providing aviation services and owns and operates the helicopter used by Mercy Flights, Inc.