Ambulance squad independent and benefiting from technology



Bradford L. Miner | | Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Because the Spencer Rescue and Emergency Squad works so closely with the Police and Fire departments and the Spencer Emergency Management Agency, many people assume the ambulance service is a town department supported by taxpayers.

Not so, said Gary D. Suter, executive director of the private, nonprofit emergency medical service off Route 9 behind the police and fire stations.

Founded in 1959 by a group of businessmen, the squad has always been financially independent of the town, not spending any of the taxpayers' money, Mr. Suter said.

Mr. Suter says that the squad has upgraded its services for residents stricken with a specific type of heart attack: an ST-elevated myocardial infarction. An electrocardiogram taken en route can be transmitted by cell phone, greatly reducing diagnostic time once the patient reaches the emergency room at UMass Memorial Medical Center - University Campus in Worcester.

Mr. Suter said the Spencer Rescue Squad and its medical director, Dr. Peter Paige, vice chairman of emergency medicine at UMass Medical School, were among the first in the region to introduce the technology, which shortens the time between a patient's arrival at the hospital and restoration of blood flow to the heart.

"Already we've had more than a dozen instances since this program was rolled out where this technology has meant that upon arrival at UMass, the patient is taken immediately to the cardiac catheterization lab," he said.

Citing the critical importance of time for a patient suffering a heart attack, Mr. Suter said the national average is 90 minutes from the time the ambulance arrives to the time patient reaches the cardiac catheterization lab.

"The UMass average is 58 minutes, and that's a significant advantage for certain cardiac patients. It's nice to have the medical team activated and waiting for the patient, rather than the patient waiting for them," he said.

Dr. Paige said after hours, when the UMass cath lab is closed, the advance notice from the EKG transmission allows the hospital to activate the on-call team.

"It takes the ambulance about 20 minutes (to get) from Spencer to the hospital. It takes about 20 minutes to get the on-call cath lab team activated, and the result is a much shorter wait for the patient," he said.

Dr. Paige cited one instance when the time from diagnosis by a Worcester EMS ambulance crew to the balloon inflating the patient's artery was 12 minutes.

"In most instances, the shorter the time the artery is blocked, the more positive the outcome for the patient," he said.

The doctor said Spencer and Oxford ambulances have the EKG transmission capability and work is under way to equip another dozen ambulance services with the same technology at the end of August.

Mr. Suter said the squad's annual subscription drive is under way, and noted that a mailing to 5,500 homes outlines the benefit of the minimum $35 contribution.

"While helping the community as a whole in maintaining an around-the-clock, advanced life support ambulance service, there are definite benefits to subscribers," he said.

Mr. Suter said subscribers and their dependents are entitled to ambulance service through June 30, 2008, at no cost.

More than 5,000 solicitations are mailed out each year, and about 1,300 people subscribe, he said.

"The benefit to subscribers with medical insurance is that they will not be billed for co-pays, and those without any insurance will have all ambulance costs waived," he said.

"I like to think of the Spencer Rescue Squad as the town's hidden jewel. It's free to all. We have the ability to provide cutting-edge emergency medical help before someone ever reaches the hospital, and the more people who donate and support the local squad, the better it is for all," Mr. Suter said.

He estimated the squad's budget for the coming fiscal year at $675,000.

Mr. Suter said the Spencer Rescue Squad contracts with 13 paramedics on a per diem basis, and that staffing provided the ability to contract with the town of Paxton to provide ambulance service to that community.

"We're using the town's firefighter/EMTs working with our paramedics under the overall clinical supervision of the Spencer Rescue Squad," Mr. Suter said.

"The town of Paxton is buying an ambulance that will be based at their fire station. They had considered AMR (American Medical Response) out of Worcester, but the cost would have been significantly more. The benefit to Paxton is that the Fire Department gets to use its firefighter/EMTs and still have around-the-clock coverage," he said.

Mr. Suter said the advantage to Spencer residents is that where mutual aid calls in the past went primarily to Leicester, the Spencer Rescue Squad ambulance in Paxton is the first choice for mutual aid.

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