At Boston MedFlight we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of our CEO and medical director Dr. Suzanne Wedel, looking back at how the organization has grown and changed under her leadership.
Dr. Wedel came to us in 1989 and since then has set a simple principle right at the heart of our organization. Patients come first. We have other, overt core values and a shared vision that motivates everyone in our amazing team, but the DNA of all those statements is that one truth: caring for critically ill and injured patients is our mission.
During Dr. Wedel's time at the head of Boston MedFlight, we've grown from a team of around a dozen staff to more than 100. With Dr. Wedel's help, Boston MedFlight has been responsible for shaping New England's critical care transport system, which is characterized by a collaborative rather than a competitive approach.
Boston MedFlight succeeds because of cooperation
Because Boston MedFlight itself is supported by a consortium of six Boston-area teaching hospitals, Dr. Wedel envisioned the same spirit of cooperation replicated on a regional level. Today the Northeast Air Alliance (NEAA) includes UMass LifeFlight, Hartford LIFE STAR, LifeFlight of Maine, Dartmouth-Hitchcock/(DHART) and Albany Med Flight-LifeNet of New York. It is a mutually supportive critical care transport system, where programs cooperate in the interests of patient welfare. We all pledge to deliver the right vehicle from the right program, to the right patient, connecting that patient with the right resources, at the right hospital.
Dr. Wedel points to that spirit of cooperation, rather than her own leadership, as the real reason Boston MedFlight has succeeded. "It's never been about a single individual – it's about collaboration and teamwork," she said. "I knew we had to get the hospitals and the regions to work together, and we have been so lucky to have that cooperation from the beginning. We have the luxury of tapping into the world's greatest resources. I have always thought of myself as a bit like an orchestra conductor: I just had to find the right people and help them make their music."
Bedside experience informs the early organization
As most people who know Dr. Wedel will attest, she brings a quality to that conductor role that has been especially fortunate, both for our organization and for the patients we care for: her experience as a critical care doctor.
“When I agreed to take the position at the head of Boston MedFlight – and it was meant to be a temporary role while they conducted a national search – I saw the potential for what we could do," she recalls. "We were trying to provide out-of-hospital critical care. I knew from my own ICU work that moving critical patients is so difficult, even within the hospital environment. I thought, how are we going to do it between hospitals -- and do it effectively, consistently, and safely?”
The answer was in the people, developing critical care teams with skill sets that were frankly unprecedented in the transport arena. Working with colleagues (including Bob Palmer, Janet Orf, Tim Harrison, and more recently Michael Frakes), Dr. Wedel oversaw development of the intensive clinician training program at Boston MedFlight, leading a sustained drive to broaden and deepen the skill sets of our medical teams.
"I realized early on that if you have the right people, it didn't matter what credits they had after their name. If we focused on mentoring, and put the building blocks together to build the critical care skills of our people, the sky was the limit,” she recalls. “We wanted to take a step back from the fixed ideas of who had the ability to do what and say, ‘What skills do our teams need, and how can we help them learn?’ Our people were never ‘only’ a paramedic or ‘only’ a nurse. Training our first teams, and ensuring their skills stayed at the highest level even as healthcare and the technologies available continue to change, was how we built MedFlight. We have chosen the very best people to work with us – people who are willing to continue their training and education, and never stop learning. That is the catalyst that's allowed our teams to achieve some pretty phenomenal stuff."
Boston Medflight also recognized early on that CCT wasn't just about excellent clinical care, but also about the supporting team behind the scenes. Every component of that team plays a critical role, from Communications and EMTS to administration and pilots, with outstanding support over many years from Andy Farkas, Charlie Blathras and Maura Hughes.
Bringing the collaborative model center-stage with the Association of Critical Care Transport
Today Boston MedFlight’s achievements are something the whole team is exceptionally proud of: we complete more than 3,100 transports annually and have achieved a superb safety and patient care record, all conducted within a collaborative system that stretches right across New England. In recent years Dr. Wedel has helped our New England model gain increasing recognition at a national and international level as a highly successful, patient-centered approach to critical care transport.
The Association of Critical Care Transport – cofounded by LifeFlight of Maine founder Tom Judge, Dr. Wedel and more than three dozen other founding members – is a fast-growing and influential patient advocacy association. ACCT works in Washington DC, at state level, and directly with other healthcare providers, insisting that a patient-first ethos guide decision-making on the key issues shaping our industry, from reimbursement to safety standards.
In ACCT Dr. Wedel holds the position of Mission Steward, where her role is to keep the organization focused on its primary purpose of developing a better critical care transport system for every patient, everywhere.
“The greatest asset of any critical care transport or healthcare organization is the trust of the patients in what we do, and Suzanne has never lost sight of that,” commented Tom Judge. “She's one of those people who has unbelievable clarity of purpose and vision – they know why they're here and what they hope to accomplish, and they understand with total clarity what the gift of trust is.”
Dr. Wedel often talks about the three remarkable features of Boston MedFlight: the remarkable care we give patients; the remarkable consortium we have built in Boston with our six supporting hospitals; and the remarkable regional critical care model we have created in New England. We hope you will join us in offering a warm and thank-you to another remarkable feature of Boston MedFlight: our CEO and medical director, Dr. Suzanne Wedel.
Thank you, Dr. Wedel, for everything you've done for us. You've given more than anyone could ever ask for, both to our organization and to the patients who've been touched by your principles and your tireless hard work. Congratulations on your 25-year anniversary!
If you read Boston MedFlight News and would like to say thank-you to Dr. Wedel by making a personal gift to Boston MedFlight, we can guarantee that she would appreciate that. Click here to celebrate Dr. Wedel’s 25 years with your gift of $25, $100 or $250 to Boston MedFlight.