Hometown Heroes speaker at Spruce Point Inn Sept. 12

Tom Judge directs Maine’s award-winning air transport medical service

EMS makes ‘most profound promise in humankind’
Tue, 08/27/2019 - 8:45am

When it comes to accident or illness, does geography determine your destiny?

In a state as large as Maine with a population that includes rural and island communities, a patient’s location used to mean difficulty in receiving medical assistance.

That was before Thomas Judge and the team at LifeFlight of Maine.

As LifeFlight medical director Norm Dinerman, M.D. explains in its critical care protocols, “Our patients remain some of the most fragile and vulnerable, and some of the smallest transported by any Maine EMS agency. The geography and meteorology of Maine present unique challenges.” 

LifeFlight crews responding with training and equipment can keep patients stable and help lessen the affect of geography on medical emergencies.

On Thursday, Sept. 12, Judge, a certified clinical trauma professional, will share experiences from 21 years as LifeFlight’s executive director when Boothbay Harbor Rotary Club holds its annual Hometown Heroes dinner at Spruce Point Inn. The event honors our region’s first responders.

Saving lives was not on the early career path for Judge. The Chicago native started as an educator and became a year round resident of Tenant’s Harbor in 1975 after three years of summer jobs in Maine. He also owned a building company in St. George.

When the St. George Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Association recruited him in 1975, it was an invitation that changed his life’s work.

Judge became an EMT and paramedic and served as its EMS director for many years. He developed an EMT program at Pen Bay Medical Center, set up a regional EMS system and became chairman of Maine’s EMS licensing board.

He has advised organizations in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, France, Japan, the Czech Republic, South Africa and the U.S. In 2011, he was named Program Director of the Year by the International Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS). 

In only 10 years, LifeFlight, under his direction, went from inception to being named the best air ambulance service in the U.S. by the Association of Air Medical Services in 2008.

Recently, Judge shared his thoughts about the gifts of service, intimacy and trust accorded those in his profession.

“There’s a unique position for EMS in our world,” Judge told the Boothbay Register. “It’s the gift of intimacy that makes EMS so different from the practice of medicine and public safety. Police need a warrant, fire departments need a fire, but people will open the door to EMS to enter their home at the most vulnerable time in their loved one’s life.”

“It’s the most profound promise in humankind across the entire world: If you call us, we will come,” Judge said of the 119 distinct, three-digit numbers that summon emergency medical assistance worldwide. “It doesn’t matter what day it is or what time it is or what the weather is. This promise helps us think about trust in a different way.”

Judge spoke about the early days of LifeFlight. “We built it from scratch, bootstrapped, with a mandate to make it world class, safe and efficient.”  He described the organization as a private nonprofit with a public mission and said it is not operated for the benefit of any single hospital or healthcare system.

At first, finding a place to land a helicopter was difficult, but today, according to its website, LifeFlight’s services have been used at emergency scenes in every county in Maine by every hospital in the state.

And although the helicopter with $500,000 of advanced equipment on board “becomes the medical centerfold,” Judge is a firm believer that everyone in the “chain of survival” needs to be equally sophisticated to make a difference in the patient’s life. Everyone has to do their job perfectly, he said. The LifeFlight crews bring an intensive care unit to the patient.

More than 26,000 patients have received ground or air transportation from LifeFlight. More than 80% of these are transported from rural hospitals to trauma centers in Maine or specialty centers in other states. LifeFlight is a secondary responder and provides assistance at the request of local EMS or a medical facility.

“When time and geography aren’t on the patient’s side, we need the hospital to come to them,” Judge said. ”That’s the unique role of LifeFlight.”

The Hometown Heroes dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door.