Drone Flights Bring Comfort to Hospice Patients

Ohio-based aerial drone photography company Aerial Anthropology has launched a nonprofit arm called the Flight to Remember Foundation that gives hospice patients a last look at a special place from their past, as well as sights they have always wished to see. 

The founders of Aerial Anthropology, married couple Ashley and Tom Davis, founded the company to produce film and photos for real estate, construction and clients in a range of other industries. When the young relative of a good friend was hospitalized in 2016 due to aggressive leukemia, they decided to offer the family a drone flight over the local park where the patient’s classmates were attending a field trip. Following this experience, they decided to get in touch with hospice organizations to offer similar flights. The Flight to Remember Foundation emerged from this endeavor. 

“We thought this would be great for hospice patients who may be unable to leave a hospice facility room or their homes, and we developed a model in which we could let the patients virtually visit almost any place they wanted through the drone’s live stream video. It gives them a small break from the situation they are in,” Tom Davis, co-founder of Aerial Anthropology and Flight to Remember Foundation, told Hospice News. “We pitched the idea to a number of hospices, and they loved it. After the first few flights, we realized this was something really special and decided to create a nonprofit to get more people involved and to accept donations to support the work.”

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Since beginning the program, Flight to Remember has served more than 100 hospice patients, offering them looks at places such as childhood homes or neighborhoods and other places of significance from their lives. In other cases, patients were able to virtually visit places to which they had hoped to travel. For example, a recent flight for a patient in Cleveland allowed him to see the town in Italy from which his family originated before emigrating to the United States. Family members still living in Italy spotted the drone and were able to wave to the patient via the camera. 

Flight to Remember is currently working with 20 hospice providers. The program is funded primarily through donations and is free of charge to patients and families, though participating hospices pay a membership fee. The videos are recorded and the footage is provided to the patients and families as a keepsake. 

One of the first hospices that the organization worked with was the Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland. The drone program enabled the hospice to not only bring comfort to their patients but to distinguish themselves from their competitors.

“This was an opportunity for us to help our patients improve their quality of life, and it became a differentiating feature for us,” said Lisa Scotese Gallagher, director of staff experience for Hospice of the Western Reserve. “When you think about all the different hospices that we are competing with, it truly is one of the differentiating features that is specifically focused on improving quality of life. It takes [patients and families] away from what they might be going through, allowing them to focus on something more positive. It became a non-pharmacological intervention for pain and anxiety.”

Through its own volunteers and partnerships with other drone companies, Flight to Remember has a global reach. The organization currently has 215 volunteer pilots that it works with directly, as well as a combined cadre of 25,000 pilots via relationships with companies like Drone Hive and Drone Base, operating in the United States, Canada, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand, Romania, Ireland, Vietnam and other countries. 

“We did a flight recently for a 92-year-old woman from Puerto Rico who survived [Hurricane Maria]. She lived in a very rural area and her home was seriously damaged and without power,” Davis said. “She had family living in the mainland United States, and they had to bring her to stay with them. They knew she wouldn’t be able to go back home. We were able to get a drone team in Puerto Rico, and she was able to see her hometown, her house and garden, and the surrounding countryside that she really loved.”

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