Last Word


 
 

From the January 2010 Issue | Wednesday, January 6, 2010


FLA PSA REDUCES 9-1-1 MISUSE

A little public education has gone a long way in Lake Sumter, Fla., where a "Know When to Call 9-1-1" campaign has dramatically reduced ambulance-as-taxi-service calls. Aside from taking aim at non-emergent calls, it also focuses on not delaying calling for help and getting EMS assistance in a true emergency, and provides alternate numbers for people to call for non-emergencies.

The agency estimates that about 10% of its calls are for non-emergencies, and that this campaign has cut that in half. "The bottom line is, we’ve seen a decrease in using ambulances as a taxi service for non medical/non-emergency calls," says Lake Sumter EMS Executive Director Jim Judge. "The program was also a big morale booster to our staff, who were tired of providing a taxi service."

Launched in January 2007, the campaign consists of a billboard along Highway 27 just south of Leesburg, Fla., flyers distributed at community events, presentations, advertising in local magazines and a special Web site. It’s had such a positive response that it’s been featured in many media outlets and adopted by other communities. View the campaign at www.whentocall911.com.

A HEALTHY CHANGE

When he’s not attending medical school classes, EMT-B Mitchell Li works for Cataldo/Atlantic Ambulance in Boston. When he read that cardiac issues cause more than 50% of EMS provider deaths, he decided to do something about it, and the "Don’t Be Your Next Patient" program was born.

He enlisted the help of fellow EMTs and company management. On their own time, EMTs approached local businesses to help them make life in EMS a bit healthier. According to John Robert Gardner, EMT-B, they asked restaurants that serve healthy food to give EMS personnel discounts or preferential service—head-of-the-line privileges, for instance. They’ve gotten discounts from local fitness centers as well. In return, participating businesses get certificates commending them for "helping to take care of their community by taking care of the EMS that works there."

Director Rob White says the company supports the project. "We’re a family-owned company and understand the health issues facing EMS." The company told its vending machine supplier, "If you want us to keep your machine, you have to stock it with healthier products."

Li says the most exciting part is getting people involved in a culture change. "If we can make multi-grain bagels not unusual," it will be a good thing.

ED NURSE HELPS REVIVE AMBULANCE EQUIPMENT

Three years ago, St. Louis (Mo.) Fire Department Chief of Paramedics Monroe Yancie reached out to Helen Sandkuhl, an emergency room nurse at St. Louis University Hospital, about his department’s need for new EKGs units in its ambulances.

"EMS works steady, and the equipment takes a beating. The EKGs are eight to nine years old and on their last legs," says Sandkuhl.

Outfitting the 13 ambulances and training personnel was estimated at about $325,000, but Sandkuhl jumped at the chance to help. She started searching for donors, but none came forward.

Then, Kelly Chase, with the St. Louis Blues Alumni Association and owner of a junior hockey league team, contacted Sandkuhl to propose donating proceeds from the alumni and Bandits games played on Nov. 20.

She agreed, and $50,000 was raised that day. The publicity also resulted in other donors coming forward. Yancie says, "Helen was the first one to take the bull by the horns and really try to help us out."

Three cheers to Sandkuhl for stepping over the EMS/hospital divide to improve life for St. Louis paramedics and their patients’ care.

SHAM DRUG SHAME

Three New South Wales (Australia) Ambulance Service (NSWAS) paramedics, including one who has reportedly admitted to stealing fentanyl, have been taken off duty pending internal investigation of drug tampering allegations. Paramedics at the service reported to the Emergency Medical Services Protection Agency (EMSPA) that colleagues may have been using the powerful painkiller and giving patients an unknown replacement fluid (likely saline) for up to 18 months—and that the agency’s leadership knew about it.

EMSPA spokesperson and NSWAS paramedic Grant Jennison is concerned that paramedics like himself may have unwittingly put patients at risk by administering inappropriate and possibly contaminated fluids. Those affected have been contacted and advised to get tested.

Jennison says the tampering was able to continue for so long because the agency tried to deal with it internally and because of a longstanding problem with drug abuse by the service’s personnel coupled with the sheer availability of the drug. "The problem here is that fentanyl is supplied in such a large amount in a reusable bottle," says Jennison. "It comes 900 micrograms in a bottle, and patients usually only require 240 micrograms. It’s also one use annually, so you throw it away after using it. It’s easy to pop in your pocket and take it home."

EMSPA is calling for all of the agency’s drug kits to be replaced with tamper-proof bottles. Jennison says they haven’t acquiesced but have rather distributed an internal document telling paramedics how to tell if a bottle has been tampered with. According to a NSWAS statement, the service is in talks with manufacturers to make the bottles tamper-proof. It also says fentanyl is being securely stored and checked twice a day. "[NSWAS] believes that the steps already taken have alleviated risk of contamination to the public," it goes on to say. But Jennison isn’t so sure, and until those bottles are replaced, neither are we. JEMS




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