When you’re a busy medical professional, it can be difficult to find time for things like your favorite hobbies or giving back to your community. But Dr. William T. Beecroft, medical director of behavior health for Blue Care Network, finds time for both in a unique way. Dr. Beecroft, who loves to fly, recently piloted his 50th compassion flight for Wings of Mercy East Michigan, a non-profit organization that offers air transport at no cost to those who require specialized medical treatment at a distant medical center. We recently spoke with Dr. Beecroft to learn more about his unique journey.
How did you get involved with Wings of Mercy?
When I was 17, I obtained my pilot’s license and gave flying lessons as a way to pay for college. I learned about a compassion flying group in Michigan through other pilots and have been doing them since 1992. I thought it would be an interesting way to use my skill set and give back to my immediate community. When I’ve spent a whole day volunteering, I feel really good about what I’ve done for the day. Giving back to my community reenergizes my life and it feels really nice.
Out of your 50 flights, is there one that is more memorable than the rest?
I’ve been able to share some amazing experiences with many people, so a lot come to mind. One summer was memorable though. We had several flights involving three separate patients: one gentlemen suffering from peripheral vascular disease and a mother/daughter pair whose blood vessels in their lungs were dying. They were participating in a medical clinical trial with a new drug to help cure their symptoms. By the end of the summer the gentlemen, who initially had to use a wheelchair to get to the plane, was able to walk a quarter-mile. The mother and daughter regained functionality in their lungs and were able to breath properly again.
The flights can’t be cheap—who ends up paying for them?
The planes and volunteer time are all donated by the pilots. Wings of Mercy sometimes covers the fuel for the trips, but all of the pilots provide their own resources. We also plan fundraisers that can be found on our website to help raise money for these trips.
How do patients find out about this service?
We get the word out to social workers, hospitals and clinics to help spread awareness of our program to patients who can’t afford commercial flights. A small fraction of the 250 airports in Michigan have a commercial flights. Use of general aviation planes allows us to go to all the rural airports in Michigan as well as the commercial airports. We are one of the few organizations who dedicate their time to provide our planes as a resource to others.
How has working for a company like Blue Cross fit in with this type of service?
In a HMO like Blue Care Network, you try to emphasize community, wellness and supporting people taking care of themselves. The service that Wings of Mercy provides helps facilitate the patients taking action to take care of themselves. For other stories of Blue Cross and BCN employees helping others, check out these other posts: