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Program Brings Diversity to EMS

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David Page, MS, EMT-P, may look like an EMS instructor and paramedic, but he sees himself as a “human gardener,” trying to create beauty and diversity in a homogenous EMS environment. As a “gardener,” in 2012 Page assisted in the creation of the Saint Paul Emergency Medical Services Academy, also known as Freedom House-St. Paul, which is aimed directly at getting minority and diverse at-risk youth trained and qualified as EMTs and paramedics.

Community Representation
The St. Paul, Minn., based paramedic instructor at Inver Hills Community College acknowledges that the Minneapolis/St. Paul area is home to three robust paramedic schools that provide qualified candidates for the surrounding EMS agencies. For Page, however, the issue is not the amount of qualified candidates available, but their demographic makeup.

Minnesota EMS agencies acknowledge that about 98% of providers are white, but this largely homogenous group serves a Twin Cities’ population that’s  relatively diverse, with large Hispanic, Hmong and Somali populations (37% and 44% of the population respectively). Urban ambulance services do not have Hmong, black or Hispanic EMTs or paramedics.

With the creation of the Saint Paul Emergency Medical Services Academy, Page hopes to diversify St. Paul’s EMS workforce. “We have been trying to increase the number of diverse EMTs and paramedics in the ranks for a long time,” says the 28-year EMS veteran and EMS Academy BLS Unit Supervisor. “In 1993, we tried to get more women into EMS, and at that time recognized that we had very few people of diverse ethnicity in our ranks.”

Three years ago the city’s youth program was given extra government stimulus money to give at-risk and low-income kids a job in the St. Paul Parks & Recreation department. The city approached the fire department with the thought of putting these kids to work cleaning the fire stations. But fire chief Tim Butler and Luz Frias, director of the Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity, had other ideas. Specifically, they wanted the candidates to take an EMT class with the thought that they might eventually get a job with the fire department. That’s when Page, also an Allina field paramedic, got involved.

“A lot of people thought the kids were too uneducated or if they had failed high school, were single parents, or had been involved with gangs, that they wouldn’t be eligible to be EMTs and paramedics,” Page says. “There has been a lot of resistance to it.”

But Page was undaunted. At the chief ’s request, he converted a fire station to be a training facility for EMTs. It was renamed Station 51 in honor of the 1970’s television show, EMERGENCY!

Phase II
The program was initially deemed a success because almost 70 people had graduated and gotten jobs in emergency rooms at local hospitals and in nursing homes. But Page knew his graduates were capable of so much more. “I’m not in the business of training EMTs and paramedics to staff nursing homes,” he says. “I was hoping to work with them on the ambulance and get the benefit of their cultural experiences and ethnicity.”

Once students graduated from the EMT class, Page noticed that they had difficulty getting jobs with ambulance services. So Page began to push government and city leaders, as well as various EMS organizations, to support Station 51 and advocate for the graduates and academy training program. Some of those leaders got behind him in a big way and helped Page breathe new life into the initiative. His idea was to create a nonemergency transport service to give graduates experience.

Regions Hospital, the area’s local Level 1 trauma center, also got on board. The hospital needed to transport patients to their homes and had trouble getting private services to allocate resources for them.

Phase II of the academy program began in July 2012 with an ambulance service. Ultimately, the students became paid Parks & Recreation employees under the command of the St. Paul Fire Department. Page and his students started with two ambulances leased from the college for one dollar.

The Academy initially hired 10 graduates, all of whom went through additional ambulance operations training. Volunteer instructors jumped on the ambulances to both supervise and train the new graduates. “Out of the 10 graduates we hired in the first wave, seven have been hired by area ambulance services,” says Page. “We were more successful than we wanted to be within the first few months, so we hired a second wave of six, and they are currently going
through training.”

The earnings from this ambulance service will allow for the funding of future academy EMT classes. In a nutshell, phase II allowed the academy to become a self-sustaining, revenue-generating program that runs two EMS classes a year. “It generates revenue by these young people working while they are continuing to
go beyond being an EMT to a paramedic,” Page says. “When they get done with the EMT class, we call that phase I, and they become nationally registered as EMTs.”

Continuing Education
When the academy had challenges receiving dispatching services from the local communication center, because the academy was considered a non-emergency service, Page hired a dispatcher. Private citizens can also call their dispatch but must give 24 hours advanced notice. The Academy’s ambulances travel within a
60-mile radius, but can be cleared to go 150 miles.

Page also developed a part of the Academy curriculum that teaches students how to be CPR instructors for city departments and workers including lifeguards, tree trimmers, and zoo and stadium personnel.

The program is looking to grow in unique ways. For instance, Page is helping create a specialized wheelchair transport service for Regions Hospital to discharge patients who do not need an ambulance; it’s expected to begin in April 2013. Another example is the city of St. Paul’s Officer in Residence program, where city police officers live in public housing buildings as a way of creating community-policing programs. “The St. Paul fire chief wants to see some of our EMTs live in those public housing buildings as they continue on through paramedic school,” Page says. “They can teach residents CPR, check blood pressures or make sure residents take their medicine. They can also translate other languages and provide an influence for healthy living.”

Leveling the Field
All of the challenges that this project has had to overcome have only made everyone, especially Page, more steadfast in seeing the academy and its graduates succeed. Part of this comes from his own self-determination, and part of it comes from growing up in Mexico and being “a white guy in a brown culture,” he says. Growing up in that cultural backdrop has helped shape and mold Page into the man, paramedic and instructor he is today.

“I want to make sure there are equal opportunities for people who do not have the mentoring and resources that I had, or other people currently have, to enter this field,” Page says. “I think it’s a great field. We need people who speak diverse languages. We need people who understand different cultures.”

To best illustrate his point, he references “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” by the late rapper Tupac Shakur, which states in part, “Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.”

“The conditions under which these youths are living and going to school are not what we envision the American Dream to be,” Page says. “They are around shootings and stabbings, and it’s a miracle that one of them breaks through the concrete and allows themselves to grow and get sunshine. What’s terrible is even when they grow through the concrete, we look at the rose, and we look at it as a tarnished rose out of place. We say they’re not good enough, they’re not strong enough, they’re not smart enough, they didn’t finish high school, or they got pregnant early, instead of looking at the amazing feat that they’re not in jail or dead.

“My job is to break the concrete,” he adds. “They will be equal or better clinicians than anyone I have ever trained because they understand the dynamics of healthcare and culture in their population. We need that culture and these folks to survive. They are roses. They are amazing people and they have a lot to offer.”

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