Mercy Flights was founded 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 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 grew, Mercy Flights responded by adding additional aircraft and personnel to provide medical transportation as needed. To date, Mercy Flights has flown over 20,000 patients, and continues to provide this vital service to Southern Oregon.
In 1992, Mercy Flights purchased Medford Ambulance Service, expanding operations to ground transportation. This acquisition combined the strengths of these two vital community service organizations. The decision to expand followed discussions with both Rogue Valley Medical Center and Providence Hospital, which supported building a regional medical transportation network. In 1993, Mercy Flights acquired Rogue Ambulance, expanding its service to 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 faced financial challenges in operating ambulances in the 90s. Through a cooperative effort, now these First Responders and EMTs continue to serve their communities as a valuable part of Mercy Flights. These communities benefit from the assurance of consistent, professional EMS services and a stronger economic base. 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, too. Today we serve over 18,000 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 Exploring for Life organization, we sponsor an EMS specific post, Explorer Post 131. 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 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. Explorer Post 131 has provided medical services at National Boy Scouts Jamborees.