The EMS Bill of Rights

The EMS Bill of Rights

Jun 22, 2017

There has been a lot of buzz over the past week about California’s EMS Bill of Rights.  Dave Konig has a great take on it over at The Social Medic that I encourage you to read.  American Medical Response has even launched a counter campaign to it complete with the hashtag #LivesBeforeLunch.  While that makes me cringe a bit, I want to touch on one line of AMR’s response to the bill that stuck with me. “As written, AB 263 is an unprecedented political power grab, and will heavily penalize private – but not public – employers of EMTs and paramedics.” When I look back at my career with AMR that spanned more than twelve years, I had a lot of ups and downs.  Had busy shifts and I had slow shifts.  I found myself mandated to work despite being sick, or just needing a day off.  Through the highlights and the lowlights of working in a busy 9-1-1 system that amassed roughly 40,000 calls per year, the instances where my 12 hour shifts hit double digits were rare when compared overall to my full body of work. I have friends who work in the “public” sector in some of the busiest EMS systems in the country.  One who works in a fire-based EMS system routinely does more than 20 calls in a shift.  In fact, the overwhelming majority of medic units in their system far surpass the volume run by their busiest suppression pieces, and you know what the response from some of his coworkers on the suppression side is?  “I know I occasionally get a full night’s sleep while you are out running, but you chose your career and I chose mine.”  They are under represented by their union and are the medics who really need protecting, not the EMS based paramedics and EMTs of the private sector, yet that is who this bill is targeted as. In all my years involved in EMS, AMR has never hidden what it is.  They are a for profit company.  They are a place for EMTs and paramedics to find a job, and rarely a career.  The higher that you go on the food chain,...

“Always in Service”

“Always in Service”

May 21, 2017

EMS Week 2017 is upon us and as always there are a lot of positives that need to be pointed out.  Its a time to recognize the little things that people do, and more importantly the people behind the uniform.  It is the week of the year that should be about us, because the other 51 weeks out of the year should be about the patients that we serve.  With taking all of that into consideration though, this is not going to be one of those positive posts. Last week, there was a call for articles and posts related to the tagline “EMS Strong: Always in Service” for this week’s message to providers.  It asked for people to talk about what it means to them.  Well, here you go. I grew up in a heavily volunteer driven community.  When I started EMS, every BLS unit on the street was staffed by people dedicating their time.  Much like myself, many went through their day to day activities with a Minitor II pager strapped to their hip, waiting to hear that rhythmic beeping that still gives me palpitations more than 20 years later.  Day or night, weekend or weekday, on school vacations or snow days, it did not matter.  I was always in service. At the time, I was a young, naive teenage EMT.  I was happier on the ambulance than I was on the high school basketball court.  I did not care if I got home from my summer job at 2am, if the pager went off at 3, I was going.  I did not have a care in the world.  EMS was what mattered to me.  I was always in service. In college, I sacrificed many Friday or Saturday nights where my college friends would be out drinking and partying to throw on a uniform, turn on the radio and go trucking out of my dorm to take care of the sick, vomiting, and ETOH students of Springfield College.  I cleaned vomit off of my boots.  I cared for people that I might see in my economics class come Monday morning.  I was ready to go at a second’s notice.  I was always in...

The Ambulance of the Future

The Ambulance of the Future

May 12, 2017

Roughly twelve years ago, AMR and AEV’s Safety Concept Vehicle made its way to Springfield for us to take a look at.  It included a number of interesting features like an expanded harness setup to allow providers to move a little more freely around the box while still being anchored.  There were mounting brackets for cardiac monitors, and video cameras to monitor both the rear of the truck for backing up, and the passenger side to check for traffic before opening the curbside door. The vehicle itself contained a lot of positives that have been adopted over the years.  I see more cameras used in emergency vehicles and I’m a a fan of the checkered or striped patterns on the backs of trucks to make them more visible to oncoming traffic.  I have also seen a few more monitor brackets.  But where is everything else?  When is that ambulance of the future going to get here? Year after year at conference after conference, there will undoubtedly be some ambulance parked on the exhibit hall floor touting itself as the “ambulance of the future.”  Some have bucket seats that allow a treating paramedic to ride front facing with all equipment available at arm’s reach.  Or cabinets replaced with pouches that can be slid on tracks to more easily make supplies accessible. Then, year after year, I pack up my chachkies and my six month supply of vendor provided pens and I head back to my EMS service relegated to sit on the same old bench seat that I sat on nearly 25 years ago when I first set foot on an ambulance that was ten years old at the inception of my career.  I take the same risks while I care for my patients mainly because I have all but accepted the fact that if that ambulance is involved in a serious crash, I’m pretty much screwed anyway. Concept vehicles are great, but when is anyone going to do anything with them?  I’ve worked in a just a couple of ambulances with the bench seat replaced by a bucket seat, and it left a lot to be desired.  It felt cramped, and nothing like these...

Cross Promotion and CPR

Cross Promotion and CPR

May 9, 2017

The biggest barrier to many systems’ CPR survival rates skyrocketing is the pubic’s lack of willingness to perform CPR before a rescuer gets on scene.  Those roughly five minutes might be the most important five minutes in a patient’s chance for survival.  Many systems have tried to teach more hands only CPR, or perform “flash mob” trainings as a way to get the word out there about the importance of CPR.  Frequently, the top two concerns that I’ve heard expressed by the public are the perceived legal issues, or the “what if I do it wrong?” attitude, and the fear of giving mouth to mouth to a stranger.  In reality though, neither of these factors truly come into play anymore with good Samaritan protecvtion laws and a new found focus on compression only CPR. This morning I read a news story shared by EMS1 about a woman who nearly lost her son who now hosts “CPR parties” and it got me thinking.  My girlfriend has a problem, and I know that she is not alone.  On an almost weekly basis, our mailbox becomes filled with products from some company called Lu La Roe, or as I have come to call it “Lou Lou La Rue.”  In reality, I am okay with it because I feel a little more justified when I buy games off of Steam or have an afternoon of craft beer and Amazon Prime purchasing.  She told me how she has spent time on Facebook attending virtual parties where people will go through their inventory on a platform like Facebook Live. I know for a fact that there are at least a couple of paramedics who sell products like Lu La Roe on the side, and I thought that this might be a great opportunity to do some teaching.  In reality, all that one needs to learn how to do hands only CPR is a pillow and a couple of minutes.  In corporate some “100 beats-per-minute” music, and a person could put together a free, informative CPR class that could save a life with just a couple of minutes of education tied in to a sales presentation.  Seems simple, right? These are the...

An Apology to Those We’ve Lost

To expand on last week’s posts about the evolution of cardiac arrest, I got thinking about how things have changed over the centuries.  I remember watching Killing Lincoln on the history channel a few years ago.  In the moments after President Lincoln was shot, an army surgeon who was at Ford’s Theatre stepped up to care for the doctor.  He instructed people to “lift his arms up and down” to help facilitate respirations for the president.  Its something that today, we would look at as being ridiculous.  The funny thing is, as I look over my career and a lot of the treatments that I talked about last week, I see a lot of what used to be cornerstones of resuscitation only a few decades ago as being equally as ridiculous. It makes me wonder how many life saving events that I could have been a part of had our approach to cardiac arrest been similar to what it is today.  The changes that we have seen in the last 20 years have been simple ones.  We have changed compression rates.  We’ve prioritized compressions.  We have realized that getting that tube is not nearly as vital as we once thought it was.  17 years ago, if I delivered a code without a tube to the ER, it was seen as a badge of shame. You did everything you had to do, the rest of the care be damned, and you got that tube. What if we had stayed on scene and played for some of those codes instead of just throwing a backboard under them and whisking them away to the hospital morgue?  What if we had admitted defeat to a difficult tube and stuck with a BLS airway since that was working anyway?  What if we had done compressions in between my stacked 200, 300, and 360 joule shocks?  How many more lives would have been saved? The first CPR save pin that I ever received was when I was 16 years old.  The patient was 80-something and she collapsed at home.  22 years ago, New Jersey was doing some things right.  If we didnt get them back we did not go anywhere.  This patient though,...

The Evolution of Cardiac Arrest Care

As we start to dive down the rabbit hole of what makes an effectively run cardiac arrest, it is important to understand the roots of what we are actually doing.  Personally, I could go back some 23 years to 1993 when I received my first CPR card.  I learned the importance of opening the airway.  Looking, listening and feeling.  If the patient was not breathing, and I could not give a rescue breath, I had to reposition the airway.  Simply put, until the patient had a patient airway, and was effectively being ventilated or breathing on their own, not a single compression was done. If I had somebody with me, for every five compressions that were done, a ventilation was given.  If it was just me, it would be 15:2.  Sometimes I am amazed that we saved anyone at all following that.  In the system that I started in, I feel like we were ahead of the curve.  CPR calls were commonly not transported to the hospital.  We would work them at home and leave them at home. Fast forward now seven years to my time as a paramedic student and my early days as a paramedic.  Not much from that airway focus had changed.  ROSC was rare.  Survival to discharge was even more rare.  Every workable cardiac arrest was transported to the hospital regardless of rhythm or downtime. The success and failure of the care provided rested on two factors: whether the patient was turned over to the emergency room staff intubated, and whether or not the call time was short.  We would walk away from a code high fiving each other for delivering a dead body to the ER in 30 minutes or less, like we were some glorified Dominos delivery drivers. Throughout my career, my views on EMS and the impact that we have on the general public has swung to both ends of the spectrum.  I’ve felt that we were completely necessary for the well being and survival of every single person that we encountered, and I’ve felt used and abused by the system.  As I enter my 16th year as a paramedic though, I can without a doubt say...

Comfort in Change

One of the things that amazes me about this field is how tightly we hold on to our beliefs.  It does not matter if it has to do with oxygen management or medication administration, or even C-Spine.  People always seem to revert back to how they were taught the first time that they learned something presumably because it is uncomfortable.  Maybe it is time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Make it is time to make change a way of life. It has been my experience that people seem to base a lot of decisions that they make off of one negative experience in their career over a more frequent positive one.  We balk at giving pain medications to some patients because we believe that they are lying to us thanks to that one addict that we feel pulled a fast one on us in the early days in our career.  Or we put the nitro aside on an inferior MI because this one time a medic that you met told you about a medic that they knew who dumped the pressure on a patient who then coded on them.  The truth is though that the person in pain, regardless of their background, could benefit from that fentanyl, and chances are, that person having the MI will maintain their pressure and could greatly benefit from the treatment that you are so reluctant to give them. Or take response times as another example.  Despite evidence to the contrary, and despite studies that have been conducted, there is little correlation between response times and mortality in a majority of the emergencies that we as EMS providers respond to.  I happen to know of one rather large service that despite having an excellent ROSC rate they see a lower percentage of CPR saves in the more densely populated section of their service area with considerably lower response times than they do in the more suburban or rural areas.  While the difference in miniscule, it is further proof that despite the fact that somebody gets on scene more quickly than in other areas, speed alone does not constitute more lives saved. I have always found the concept of...

Knee Jerk Management

Your department has a policy that they send two ambulances to reported cardiac arrests.  On one particular busy night two of your trucks are dispatched to a person reportedly not breathing.  The first truck gets on scene and finds a patient beyond help.  Before they can cancel the second ambulance, they are involved in an intersection accident.  In response to this incident the next morning your director releases a memo stating that second ambulances will no longer be dispatched to cardiac arrests. In a labor management meeting, an employee suggests development of an “emergency code” for field personnel to report to dispatch that they are in trouble to help activate a large law enforcement response to assist them at their location.  Your boss says that this will not happen because they think field crews will abuse it.  A week later, a paramedic is seriously assaulted by a psychiatric patient.  The dispatcher on the other side of the radio was unable to make out their calls for help.  Your boss then revisits the policy. Your division uses a non-disposable laryngoscope blades.  A supervisor goes to your boss and suggests following the industry trend and shifting to disposable ones to reduce the risk of infection for patients.  Your boss decides against this since your company has never been sued by someone receiving an infection from this means of transmission.  You are convinced that the only way this policy will change is through some sort of tragedy. All three of these incidents are loosely based on actual events that I have either been part of or have heard about from friends of mine working in different systems throughout the United States.  They are all evidence of the same though, change driven by catastrophe.  We have all experienced it at some point in our career.  We have all been sitting around in a conversation with our friends and coworkers and had somebody utter the words, “Nothing is going to change until somebody gets hurt.”  Some of this attitude from leadership is because of a generalized disconnect from the field.  Some of it is because of the kneejerk, reactive nature of EMS that seems to carry on with people...

Why Rhode Island is Getting It Right

Why Rhode Island is Getting It Right

Apr 24, 2017

As I said in last week’s article about Bob Harper, I am kind of playing catch up with a lot of topics, this being one of them.  In late 2016, the State of Rhode Island announced publicly that on March 1 of this year, there would be a significant protocol change to their cardiac arrest protocols.  Crews would be expected to remain on scene for 30 minutes prior to being transported. Topically, I applaud Rhode Island’s Department of Health for being as public and transparent as they were about this change.  Anybody who has been in the field for even a modest amount of time has been on a scene where they were asked “why aren’t you just taking them to the hospital?”  In some cases, there is some merit to that.  In some cases there is very little that we as paramedics and EMTs can do for a patient on a scene.  Cardiac arrest is not one of those emergencies. I saw some pushback online from some who consider themselves experts on the topic, but that’s neither here nor there.  One common complaint that I saw revolved around scene safety.  Obviously, scene safety trumps all.  If I am coding someone in the middle of a street with an aggressive or growing crowd, I am going to think about moving.  But on these calls are the exception to the rule, and on the vast majority of runs, even in the worst areas of someone’s coverage area, communication with families goes a long way. “We are doing everything for them right here that they would get in the emergency room.  It is their best chance to survive.”  That’s the common statement that I have made a number of times to families of patients in cardiac arrest. Maybe those dissenters failed to read the protocol, it states “Regardless of proximity to a receiving facility, absent concern for provider safety, or traumatic etiology for cardiac arrest, resuscitation should occur at the location the patient is found.”  Emphasis is mine.  Most of the write ups that I read from the online blogging community were written on or around the month of December.  It is certainly possible that the...

The Surfside Beach CPR Debacle

The first time I laid hands on a patient’s chest and did CPR, I was 16 years old.  There were probably close to a dozen total times that I used the skill that I learned at the age of 14 before I was legally able to be the treating EMT by myself in the back of an ambulance, a responsibility that one must be 18 to hold.  On the overwhelming majority of the CPR calls that I have been on in my career, let alone those two years before I was of legal age, I left the patient just like I found them, dead. On January 25, 2015, the Surfside Beach Fire Department in South Carolina rolled a rig with a CPR certified junior firefighter on the truck.  At some point, it was that teenager’s turn to tag in on compressions and do their two minute duty.  Much like nearly 93% of all cardiac arrests worked nationwide, that crew from the Surfside Beach Fire Department left the patient how they found them, dead, much to the dismay of the Surfside Beach town council. Almost a month ago, an “unnamed official” with the town filed a complaint, prompting an investigation by the State of South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control.  The investigation, concluded earlier this week, found no evidence of wrong doing despite the shock and horror expressed by town officials. These are the kinds of stories that make the news that are related to our industry.  No matter how futile the efforts might be, the loss of a patient is obviously catastrophic to a patient’s family, but blaming a teenager for performing a skill that is taught to kids as young as 10 is preposterous.  Thankfully, there are many who agree with me on this stance. I got my start as a cadet on my first volunteer squad, and I had the chance to mentor a few other cadets over the years.  It takes a special kind of person to handle the responsibilities that an EMT or first responder is tasked with at such a young age, but for every call, much like that junior firefighter in South Carolina, I was closely...