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Home > Topics > 911
July 08, 2014
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Emergencies at hospitals still require 911

Just because an incident happens in a health care facility doesn’t automatically mean that the facility is capable of managing it without outside assistance

By Arthur Hsieh

Last week a report about a veteran dying from sudden cardiac arrest while on the campus of a VA hospital caught national attention. There was a lot of criticism over why the patient wasn’t moved to the facility’s emergency department by hospital personnel, rather than waiting for an ambulance to arrive. This comes as the nation’s health care system for its veterans is under a dark cloud of poor management practices in providing care.

If you have ever seen a VA medical facility, you probably understand why their policy is to call 911 and request an ambulance, rather than “just” transporting the patient by gurney. They are big — really big.

Judging from an aerial map of the hospital, it covers several square blocks in Albuquerque. While it’s not clear where the cafeteria is, I imagine the ability to muster a rapid response team and get them to the incident within a couple of minutes would be a challenge for any major facility.

Trying to do effective CPR on a moving hospital gurney? Not likely. Location of the closest AED? Unknown at this point.  I’m sure that information will become known in the future. 

Initial reports indicated that the ED entrance was merely 500 yards away. That’s 1,500 feet, greater than a quarter mile, almost two football fields in distance. I’m not sure about you, but I have never muscled a gurney that far in my career. 

The bottom line is, just because something like this happens in a health care facility, doesn’t automatically mean that the facility is capable of managing it without outside assistance. Frankly, EMS providers are probably the best trained and equipped to manage this incident like any other response.

Whether there was an unnecessary delay, time will tell. In this case, dialing 911 was still probably the best call to make. 

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. In the profession since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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