Eileen Minogue, once a volunteer with an organization that specialized in providing free transportation to people in need, was confident she knew a better way to deliver services. Minogue was so confident in fact that she went from volunteer to executive director seemingly overnight and co-founded her own nonprofit, Patient AirLift Services.
In just five years, PALS has provided more than 7,500 free flights for those in the Northeast United States requiring medical diagnosis or treatment but cannot afford to travel or are unable to fly commercially. Services are also extended to family members, military personnel and their families and also in support of humanitarian efforts.
“It wasn’t just me by myself,” Minogue said of the resources necessary to establish PALS. “There were a lot of really amazing people that are now the bulk of my board and there’s no other organization that does what we do in the Tri-State area. We saw a need and we wanted to make sure that we created an organization that was completely transparent and really run efficiently and considerate of every minute of our donor’s time or a dollar of their money. We wanted to make sure that everything was being used appropriately and done for the right purposes.
“None of us sat there and said, ‘Oh let’s create a nonprofit,’” she added. “The cart came before the horse a little bit. Normally you plan it out, ours was a little bit reversed.
“We have an amazing team and I’ll say it over and over again,” Minogue continued. “It’s now five years this month and we will have arranged 7,500 flights – you don’t do that by one person. It’s not about me, it’s really about an amazing team of people, whether it be the board or the staff or our volunteer pilots. It’s just, there’s no one who thinks it’s about ‘I’ or ‘me,’ it’s all about us and PALS and that’s the success.”
Her team withstanding, there’s no denying that Minogue’s passion is a driving force behind PALS and all that they do.
“When she says it’s in her blood, she’s not kidding,” Jacqueline Pecora, Development and Marketing director at PALS, said. “She’s part of the Kiwanis, she’s part of the Massapequa Foundation, she’s part of Voices Against Cancer, the Chris Carrino Foundation and then she’s always trying to connect us with organizations to work more powerfully so that we can help our people and work harder and better.
“Even though there are the most amazing passionate people who are involved in our organization, I really don’t think that we would all be here today if it wasn’t for her passion and her vision. There has to be a leader and she is the leader of this organization. Eileen loves what she does, this is part of her life, she loves this and it shows,” Pecora added.
With that passion, dedication and team of people behind her, Minogue and PALS managed to get through their first year of existence, despite the endless amounts of stress and sacrifices that both she and her family had to endure.
“I spent lots of hours giving to other people and at times they [my family] wonder where they are in line,” Minogue recalled. “But my husband knows it, my kids know it. I can’t help myself and they’re all healthy and taken care of and there are kids that have cancer and they need help. So at home it was crazy because I put a lot of time into it but here [the office] it was very crazy.
“Fortunately I got some really key people in the beginning and I was never by myself. I always had Kathy [Burke, comptroller] and Karen [Krolikowski, mission coordinator], who were my first employees, working with me until 10 o’clock on a Friday,” she continued. “These things don’t happen in a box or in a vacuum. Eileen is not the person that makes everything happen. What do they say? Surround yourself with smarter people? That’s really the key to my success. I get people around me that are better than I am and they make me look good.”
During their first year of operation in 2010, PALS was lucky enough to secure a donor who provided enough funds to get them through the first 12 months without having to worry about additional fundraising. This huge advance allowed PALS to focus on the logistics of their mission, securing their first 210 flights. In 2011, the number of annual flights grew to 723 and then into a total of 2,343 in 2014.
“Even though we’re doing 200 flights a month we could be doing more,” Minogue maintained, “and the bulk of our flights are really coming out of the state of Maine. We would love for it to be more regional, more across the Northeast but we’re working on it. We work on it every day, just to raise awareness and to let them [patients] know that we’re here.”
PALS relies heavily on word of mouth but they’re also a part of the Air Care Alliance, a national organization listing more than 60 groups with volunteer pilots who fly patients for care or other aviation services to those in need.
“We want to be able to always provide that same level of service, let them [the patients] know that we have them, let them know that we’ll truly hold their hands and alleviate the burden of transportation,” Minogue said. “Because to grow and not be able to do that would be a disservice to those we serve.”
Such service was recognized in 2014 by Mutual of America for community partnership and winning an Imagine Award on Long Island for the 2015 rising star.
“I knew from the beginning. I never even questioned it. I knew that we had the right people in place that would make this a strong volunteer pilot organization and I knew that we would be transparent,” Minogue said. “I think great things happen when you check your ego at the door.”
When asked why the organization has persevered even during challenging times, Minogue replied, “The patients. We have patients that we’ve flown like this little boy, Wes. We’ve flown him – and I was actually just watching a media piece and in the media piece his mother said she’s quite certain that if she didn’t have PALS, her son would not be alive today.
“We can’t change the circumstances that people are in, but we can make it easier for them as they go along the way,” Minogue added.
When asked what her ultimate wish for PALS would be, she was quick to reply, “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to exist and people could access treatment in their local area? People are making decisions today on treatment protocols based on whether or not they can access that treatment and my hope is that we can help people get the best possible treatment, the best possible outcome.”
Minogue noted that sometimes there are unfortunate roadblocks when attempting to provide flights.
“There are limitations to our services,” said Minogue, who speaks of flight safety issues such as weight limits, whether or not patients can get in and out the plane or even medical restrictions that would make flying not viable. “But the people that we can help, we go above and beyond.”
Constantly juggling amongst their three main focuses, patients, pilots and money, PALS is always on the lookout for volunteers, donors and as of late, corporate sponsorships, hoping to one day manage partnerships with hotels that might give patients discounts.
“My hope is that when people look up in the sky, they think of a PALS flight, and think that that could be a generous volunteer pilot, just leaving his family and his work to open up access to somebody in need,” Minogue said. “We are a lifeline to the people that come to us. And to me, that’s just a blessing to be able to do it. I get more out of it than I give.”