Administration and Leadership, News, Patient Care

Lives Saved on the Tarmac and Facebook, but St. Thomas EMS is in Trouble

Issue 9 and Volume 38.

 Facebook Saviors 

While scanning Facebook late one night, White Oak (Pa.) EMS Chief Paul Falavolito spotted a cry for help among the status updates.

Tierny Butler, the mother of Jackson “Jax” Ulicky, had devoted “The Adventures of Super Jax” fan page to her son’s struggle with OEIS complex, a birth defect involving spinal deformation and the development of some essential organs outside the body. Falavolito followed the page.

Though Jax had already undergone two major surgeries in New York (where his family lived during the first six months of his life), doctors advised that the child be taken to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), where he would receive the best possible care.

But since Jax’s father had already begun moving their possessions from their home in New York to a new one in Pennsylvania, the West Chester Medical Center (WCMC) in Valhalla (N.Y.) would not discharge Jax to an out-of-state residence.

To make matters worse, the family’s medical insurance would not cover transportation from New York to Pittsburgh.

“I did what any mother in my situation would do,” Butler told WPXI Pittsburgh. “I asked for help for my son.”

Turning to Facebook, she posted the plea for volunteer medical transport that Falavolito read. 

“I saw this little boy’s face,” the EMS chief said. “I knew we needed to get involved.”

More people and organizations jumped in. Paramedics Becky Miller and Bill Harper joined the transportation team and White Oak EMS’s billing company, Cornerstone Adminisystems, threw financial support behind the effort. Finally, UPMC coordinated care and transport.

In the end, more than 50 people volunteered time, effort and money to transport a boy in need, according to WPXI Pittsburgh. 

When Jax had arrived safely at the new hospital, Butler turned to Facebook to show the fan page’s more than 1,400 followers her gratitude. 

“Paul, Becky and Bill now have a very special place in our family’s life,” she posted. “Jax will always grow up knowing these are people that helped us when we thought there was no hope left.”

“Jax has changed all of our lives forever,” Falavolito responded. 

We give a big thumbs up to the participants involved in this act of kindness, but particularly to Falavolito, Miller and Harper for answering the call—even when it came through Facebook at the end of the day. 

EMS transports infant to hospital
White Oak EMS Chief Paul Valavolito poses with Jax in the ambulance that transported him from New York to Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy Tierny Butler

 EMS in Crisis

In a three-part investigative report this May, Lou Mattei of the Virgin Islands Daily News chronicles some major concerns for the St. Thomas EMS—what he calls an “EMS in Chaos.” The report includes charges of sexual harassment against members of leadership, long response times and overall incompetency.

“No pain medication, uncertified 

CPR care, poorly managed equipment, supplies and staff … if it comes in time,” Mattei writes.

Groping, demands for sex and lewd remarks from leadership top a list of alleged hazards threatening St. Thomas personnel. 

Virgin Islands Health Department Commissioner Darice Plaskett confirmed nine sexual harassment claims going as far back as 2006. In addition, inadequate training for EMTs, a limited number of trained respondents and leadership in flux affect the struggling organization.

We chide the leadership of the St. Thomas EMS for losing the ability to respond in a safe and timely manner and for allowing a lack of professionalism to negatively affect its employees and patients. We hope they will take the appropriate disciplinary and organizational actions. 


 Saving Lives on the Tarmac

Two minutes after the Asiana Airlines crash at the San Francisco International Airport on July 6, emergency services arrived on the scene, set up triage for victims down the length of the tarmac, and administered care to the wounded, which local officials said likely saved lives, according to Reuters.

Through the frenzy of activity, a glut of 9-1-1 calls and the threat of explosion, emergency responders addressed the needs of victims, loading as many as five injured people into each of the 40–50 ambulances sent to the crash site. This ensured the critically injured reached hospitals quickly, Dr. John Brown, medical director for San Francisco EMS, told Reuters.

Dr. Margaret Knudson, chief of surgery at San Francisco General Hospital, told Good Morning America she commended emergency responders for their fast triage, saying without their timely response, she “didn’t think (the victims) would have survived.”

In addition, Chris Barton, chief of emergency medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, told Reuters the emergency personnel on site were impressive and delivered patients quickly with IVs and other initial care already administered.

For their quick, professional action despite the chaos of the tarmac, we give a round of applause to the first responders responsible for the prehospital care and transportation of those critically wounded in the Asiana Airlines crash.