CATES: Emergency Medical Services Week

By Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN

Chief Nursing Officer

Odessa Regional Medical Center

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week has just concluded, and I thought it would be fitting to end their week by talking a bit about the amazing EMS providers in our community. The incredible men and women who perform the difficult and often dangerous work of providing emergency medical care out in the community are truly “unsung heroes.” They work in every sort of weather, at every hour of the day and night.

They walk into situations where they might find anything from a gunshot wound to a mom about to deliver a baby and are expected to handle it and get everyone involved to another location safely. I am constantly in awe of the people who do that job, but the ones we have here in Odessa, they are beyond incredible, and we are so fortunate to have them.

We have two different types of EMS providers here in Odessa. Odessa Fire Rescue (OFR) who supports 911 calls through the city, and private ambulance companies that occasionally help OFR with 911 services but more often provide medical transport from a basic level between health care facilities and/or homes in less urgent situations to critical care transports that take people by ground or air from Odessa to larger centers across the state when the person’s care requires specialty hospital or physician care that we just don’t have here in Odessa, like pediatric open heart surgery or evaluation for organ transplants. Both types of providers are crucial to the well-being of our community. Today though, I want to talk mostly about OFR.

OFR is truly a world-class organization. They have an incredible history of cutting-edge support to this community for decades. I love telling people that Odessa had the first 911 service in Texas and one of the first 911 services in the nation because it always surprises them, they just don’t think about this community as one that leads the charge when it comes to healthcare. But that isn’t the only way OFR has led the pack.

OFR was a pioneer in the development and use of the “jaws of life,” a device that lives up to its name and saves countless numbers of people who are trapped in vehicles and structures. Today, they are still on that cutting edge. They were early adopters of programs that allowed their paramedics to complete and transmit 12-lead electrocardiograms (ECG’s or EKG’s) from the field, a vital step in diagnosing the most dangerous type of heart attack, known in medical terms as a ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI).

In a STEMI, a person has developed a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the heart, which then limits the supply of oxygen to the heart muscle. Depending on where that blockage occurs, a STEMI can cause massive heart damage and even death. Time is critical in a STEMI, so OFR’s ability to diagnose in the field means that hospitals can take a person suffering from a STEMI immediately to the cath lab. Statistically, when it comes to a STEMI, every minute that care is delayed increases the chance of death (mortality) by 1% and the chance of life altering long-term effects (morbidity) by 2%. The work of OFR quite literally saves not only the lives of people, but also their quality of life.

Their hard work has won them the highest level of recognition by the American Heart Association for pre-hospital care of cardiac patients several years in a row. OFR is also working with the hospitals on processes that will allow more rapid diagnosis of stroke, another condition where time to treatment is crucial in reducing mortality and morbidity.

They do this incredible high-quality cutting-edge work in a difficult environment. Last year OFR made 18,666 EMS calls, they generally accompany the fire teams as well, which adds another 3,300 runs. If you divide just the EMS calls out over 365 days, that works out to 51 calls/day which translates out to just over 2 calls every hour. That is a huge load. Per capita, OFR is one of the busiest EMS programs in the state. Their ability to handle that load so well again shows how they are absolutely world-class.

As a leader in a healthcare organization the other thing that really impresses me about OFR is their ability to attract and retain talented individuals in a very competitive environment. The healthcare provider shortage that we talk about so often among nurses and physicians is just as bad among paramedics and EMTs. That OFR can recruit and retain so well speaks to a great culture in the leadership team and the organization, a culture that supports, grows, and values its staff.

This week and every week, please say Thank You to our EMS providers. They very much deserve to be sung about!