Without question, the events of March 2020 with the escalation of COVID-19 pandemic altered the thinking and methods of how society in the United States would address their approach to combating this plague individually and organizationally. The intent of this document is to share insights at a county level of one of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania.1 Allegheny County is the second most-populated county in the Commonwealth with over 1.2 million individuals.2
The history of EMS in Allegheny County goes back to 1967 with what is known nationally as having the first civilian emergency medical service staff with paramedics. Freedom House was in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. It addressed the needs of the underserved in that community of Pittsburgh.3
For decades, the Allegheny County (PA) EMS Council (ACEMSC) has met quarterly to address the efforts of the out of hospital needs of the county.4 The primary mission of the organization is to establish, maintain, and implement coordinated and cooperative system of emergency medical services to provide efficient emergency medical care to the residents and visitors of Allegheny County. In addition, ACEMSC also significantly contributed to the efforts regionally by assisting EMS West as well as at the state level with representation from Allegheny County on the Pennsylvania Emergency Health Services Council (PEHSC).5,6
Due to the pandemic, the ACEMSC rapidly evaluated the situation and determined alternative methods to assure the continuity of sharing information to the nearly 40 EMS systems in the county. This was accomplished by utilizing technology to assist with this undertaking. It was widely known there was an immediate need to establish bi-weekly meetings in order to share the ever-changing information of the pandemic. The membership of these meetings recognized the need to assure open and frank communications would be achieved to meet the needs of the county EMS systems.
During the past four months, what has easily been observed is a sincere desire to share insight and wisdom on how to best achieve success against the many factors associated with this pandemic. Perhaps the most widely recognized factors that were demonstrated and recognized in the process was the deep respect for every individual and each organization’s ability to assist with the knowledge and skills needed to combat this pandemic.
As with any horrific disaster, there are those who emerge as leaders and others who are chosen by the group (in an indirect manner) to offer guidance on how to best move forward during these most unfortunate times. What was inevitable during these meetings was a genuine respect for the knowledge and skills offered by all participating in the process. Cooperation by individuals and organizations was also a prevalent event in the meetings.
Allegheny County is fortunate to have two major healthcare systems – Allegheny Health Network (AHN) and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.7,8 Both organizations have a long history of representation on the council. Both healthcare systems brought their expertise to the table during this pandemic, assisting greatly to the needs of the EMS systems in the county. They are continuously complementary of each other and a substantial contribution to concerns of safety of the patients, EMS personal and treatment modalities needed during this pandemic.
The following list of characteristic essential to MBA programs appeared in the March 23, 2020, issue of the Bloomberg Businessweek.9 From the onset of the meetings of the ACEMSC, one could easily see and hear how this group worked and continues to do so to assure the safety and welfare of the EMS systems in Allegheny County. It seems appropriate to use these points to elaborate on the perspectives of how ACEMSC has stepped up during this time of need.
- Problem Solving Skills
- Thinking inside the box – The membership quickly and continuously works on addressing all the possibilities impacting EMS by this unfortunate situation. This think tank of highly respected and knowledgeable individuals has most certainly impacted the county’s needs during this pandemic.
- Thinking outside the box – Ideas well beyond common practices have been discussed and explored. There are no bad ideas. There is a continuous state of brainstorming to assure all the possibilities are on the table. What worked in the early timeline of the pandemic was often altered to meet the ever-changing needs for safety and patient care.
- Communications Skills
- Oral communications – Keith Morse, the EMS coordinator for Allegheny County, is outstanding at leading a group of individuals in a rapid and organized manner. Without question, there are many others that are recognized as leaders; however, Keith is the pivotal person that directs the meetings.
- Written communications – Again, Keith is the masterful at sending information, often in real time, in order to assist with the ever-changing landscape of this pandemic.
- Work Collaboratively in Teams
- Working in small groups – Following each meeting, there are always smaller group events taking place that creates more efficient methods of achieving success. The abilities of the smaller groups to bring their efforts to this larger group assist greatly in efficiency of time and effort.
- Working with large groups – The meetings takes place on Microsoft Teams. If you have been watching TV during these past few months, you surely have seen the commercials about healthcare and public service systems using Microsoft Teams to meet by social distance. The ACEMSC meetings are scheduled for an hour, however, sometimes, the meeting is shorter. Often, they run longer.
- Leadership Skills
- Leadership v Management – We all know that leadership and management are two different practices. Within Allegheny County, there is no question, there are a great number of outstanding leaders in the EMS domain. In these EMS meetings, the leaders are excellent at demonstrating their abilities to be leaders and followers as needed. All on the call are fully engaged in seeking to ask the right questions and more importantly, achieve the right answers.
- Entrepreneurial Mindset and Passion
- Creative thinking – This is essential to the success in our county. The individuals on the conference calls are always seeking new and innovative methods to address the needs of their service and the community.
- Know the rules – Many on the call are always positioned to remind us of the rules. Federal, state and county rules are always in consideration and as we quickly discovered, always subject to change.
- Break the rules – Nothing illegal here. Just breaking “norms” of how events need to take place until this pandemic is over.
- Quantitative Skills
- Ability to address a budget – There are several people on the calls that are very well versed on how federal and state funds can and should be accessed for the needs of EMS. As EMS is significantly underfunded, the ability for EMS service to acquire any additional funds during this time is much needed.
- Analysis of information – The continuous ever-changing information related to all matter of this pandemic are evaluated to assure the right answers (at the time) are offered to all in the field.
- Still taking a chance on your “gut” – Without question, often the final answers on how to address our needs is the result of a Gestalt Theory rendering the answer.
- Contribute to the Growth of the Organization
- Being part of the team – All on the call realizes that we are all part of a bigger team. There truly is a synergy that takes place during the calls that allows for appropriate questions and answers to be achieved.
- Get Along with People of Diverse Backgrounds
- As a group of EMS personnel, we have no issues with the various diversities in working collectively to accomplish the needed objectives. An area we still need to work upon is out integration with other groups needed to assure success. We would gain greatly by greater interaction with police, fire and other public safety and public health organizations and individuals in meeting the needs of the county.
- We must not simply see our personal profession of EMS as a standalone entity – we must continuously seek to diversify beyond the boundaries of EMS to other related areas of public safety and healthcare to achieve the expected goals and objectives not only of this situation but for all additional events that will surely follow.
- Industry-related Work Experience
- Having knowledge of our profession – Can’t even imagine the years of collective experience of those taking part on these meetings. Somewhere in the thousands for sure. This assist in getting to the answers. However, there is also the phrase by J. Paul Getty – “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.” That doesn’t seem to be the case in these meetings. The collective experiences of all those taking part in the process is providing significant contribution to the cause.
- In-depth Knowledge of the Field
- Knowing our profession – The citizens of Allegheny County most likely have no idea the level of expertise that exist in the EMS domain. Some of the nation’s most widely recognized experts in their field work here. We have benefited great from these individuals to date and will sure continue to do so in the future.
1. Wikipedia: free encyclopedia. [Internet]. St. Petersburg (FL): Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2001 – [cited 2020 July 28]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_counties_in_Pennsylvania.
2. Wikipedia: free encyclopedia. [Internet]. St. Petersburg (FL): Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2001 – [cited 2020 July 28]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegheny_County,_Pennsylvania.
3. Wikipedia: free encyclopedia. [Internet]. St. Petersburg (FL): Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2001 – [cited 2020 July 28]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_House_Ambulance_Service.
4. Allegheny County EMS Council. [Internet]. Pittsburgh (PA). [cited 2020 July 28]. Available from: http://www.acemscouncil.org/.
5. Emergency Medical Service Institute. [Internet]. Pittsburgh (PA). [cited 2020 July 28]. Available from: https://www.emsi.org/.
6. Pennsylvania Emergency Health Services Council. [Internet]. Mechanicsburg (PA). [cited 2020 July 28]. Available from: http://pehsc.org/.
7. Allegheny Health Network. [Internet]. Pittsburgh (PA). c2020. [cited 2020 July 28]. Available from: https://www.ahn.org/.
8. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. [Internet]. Pittsburgh (PA). c2020. [cited 2020 July 28]. Available from: https://www.upmc.com/.
9. Penty, R. & Solomon, C. (2020). Recruiting’s ESG Disconnect. Bloomberg Businessweek, March 23, 2020, p 35.