The Same Old Words, The Same Old Playbook

The Same Old Words, The Same Old Playbook

Jun 5, 2017

Any time I peruse the pages of EMS related articles I will inevitably come across some service that is trying to take over another service’s area.  Diving deeper into those articles usually reveals the same usual arguments.  Imagine my surprise when I clicked on an article about the East Longmeadow Fire Department’s move to take over EMS response in the town of East Longmeadow.

I should first point out that what I am about to write is meant to represent my own personal views on the state of the industry.  I have not inquired about anything having to do with the current staffing of ambulances and volume.  What I am reflecting on is the article and just the article coupled with my years of experience in the greater Springfield area.

Just to give a little bit of background here, I used to have a dog in this fight.  As many of you know, I was a 12-year employee of American Medical Response, the last seven of which as a supervisor.  I participated in contract bids for the town, and saw service improve as the requirements of those contracts increased.  AMR currently provides EMS service to the towns of East Longmeadow and Hamden free of charge.  The service is paid for by those who use it.  They respond to more than 2,000 calls a year, and AMR or its predecessor companies have served the town for more than two decades.

The East Longmeadow Fire Department is currently a part time department covering daytime hours only, with off hours supported by call staff and volunteers.  Their Chief, Paul Morrissette, has spent his entire career in East Longmeadow.   The East Longmeadow Fire Department does not provide EMS first response in town and even if they did, the ambulance would most likely beat them to virtually every call because they are deployed from street corner posting, quite often from the same area where the fire department is located.  To put it briefly, neither Chief Morrissette nor the department currently have any experience operating an EMS service.

In an article recently posted in The Reminder, a regional online publication, Chief Morrissette is quoted as saying, “AMR isn’t always familiar with the town, sometimes they can be short staffed.  Here, it’s our employees, all of them live in town and a lot of them grew up in town and went to school here.  The quality of care is higher because they have a vested interest in the community.”

If there was a book called How to Run Your Current Ambulance Provider Out of Town Chief Morrissette’s statement would be chapter one, line one.  I cannot speak to current AMR staffing levels, How, exactly, does residing somewhere improve ROSC rates, or make a paramedic more effectively identify a heart attack on an EKG?  The short answer is, it doesn’t.  Compassion is a necessary trait for a paramedic to have, but the address on their certification does not make a person more compassionate than someone who lives out of town.  Trying to convince one’s self otherwise is foolish.

Just the other day I sat smiling as many friends posted pictures of the awards that they received at an AMR sponsored ceremony.  CPR save pin after save pin.  Paramedics and EMTs alike being recognized by the service for their heroics on calls.  AMR does exponentially more 911 calls than anyone in Western Massachusetts, a level of experience that should never be discounted.  Their paramedics are highly sought after every time a town decides to hire from a civil service list.

My point is this: there is more to EMS than knowing the streets and being able to put wheels to pavement. There is a level of experience and proficiency that comes with an EMS provider that can not only get there quickly but also provide a high level of experienced care. The Chief would like the residents to believe otherwise. It is the same arguments all the time and the outcome is usually a reduction in quality of care because the people who take over have less, or in this case no EMS experience.

Sadly, it appears that East Longmeadow’s story is already written.  Chief Morrissette is willing to put the safety of his town on the line to extend the hours that his part-time department provides coverage.  How hard can providing EMS care be, right?  You just put someone in the ambulance and drive them to the hospital.  I guess the town of East Longmeadow feels that a person and department with zero experience in EMS trumps one that has been serving the community for decades.

I will be sitting back and keeping an eye on this one, but to those who currently serve the town of East Longmeadow, keep doing the great work that you do.  Remember that we do our jobs for the patients.  Let those at a higher level fight the fight and you stay focused on your mission.  You know what you are capable of.  You know the level of care that you provide.  Keep doing that, regardless of where you might lay your head at night.

***CORRECTION*** It has been brought to my attention that the East Longmeadow Fire Department has added “first response” during daytime hours with an engine to medical calls.  While it is probably more of “back up for an ambulance” due to the response times of the contracted provider, I wanted that noted for this article.