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9 steps to fostering EMS community support

Being a reliable and engaged community partner takes your EMS organization to lead agency status and makes you the authority when it comes to community health care


By Thomas L. Little

Every EMS service has many opportunities to build and maintain community support. Providing top-notch patient care is a priority, but public education and outreach pay big dividends, too.

The demand for up-to-date, timely health and safety information is greater than ever before. Establishing your organization as a health and safety authority in the community is an effective method of demonstrating value and commitment to the people you serve. Your organization will also become a respected household name, and your community’s leaders will be there when you need them.

Late summer outreach might focus on child safety as the school year begins. (Photo/City of New Orleans)
Late summer outreach might focus on child safety as the school year begins. (Photo/City of New Orleans)

Here are nine ways to become a community health leader:

1. Advertise a seasonal safety message

Purchase monthly ad space from your local news media, but don’t advertise your organization. Instead, identify a seasonal safety message to promote in the community. For example, provide education on pool safety and drowning prevention in the spring and discuss fireworks safety leading up to July 4.

Late summer outreach might focus on child safety as the school year begins. The impact of extreme temperatures on the young and elderly, motorcycle safety and carbon monoxide education are just a few examples of potential topics.

Schedule quarterly meetings with the editorial boards of the local newspapers, television news directors and public affairs departments to share ideas and to collaborate on safety education.

2. Be present with other public safety organizations

When a major community emergency event occurs, be present with other public safety organizations, and be prepared to tell the media how you rendered care or how the community can prepare for or respond to an event. Without violating principals of HIPAA, you can focus on your organization’s preparedness, response and delivery of care, including transports. Focus on coordination with police, fire and other partners in the community. Members of your community want to know that organizations are working together efficiently and effectively on their behalf.

3. Be the lead agency in educating community leaders

Community leaders depend on industry professionals to advise them. Be the lead agency in providing them information regarding EMS topics. Make sure to also be an authority on preparedness and public health issues. Don’t try to compete with other agencies to be the expert in areas that they oversee, but make sure you can show your organization’s depth of expertise and awareness of every issue that is relevant to EMS, from disaster response to the impact of social services on community health.

4. Provide regular community EMS status reports

Issue regular status updates to the community, including quarterly reports to any regulatory boards or local elected officials, even if they do not provide direct oversight to your organization. Report on all service categories, call statistics and your financial status. This information may come in handy if you must ask for (or defend) a rate increase or make a subsidy request.

5. Build relationships with state and federal elected officials

Visit state and federal elected officials, and offer to be a resource on EMS and other health preparedness issues that they may be confronting. Make sure they are educated on the topic, even when you’re not lobbying on a particular subject.

6. Brief newly elected officials

When a newly elected official takes office, schedule a meeting at your facility. Brief him or her on how your organization operates in the community; and provide a tour of your shop, offices and communications center so they can see your investment. Describe how a call works so they can understand your challenges. Also, provide information about your organization’s community outreach activities

7. Offer EMS services for training events

Meet with the various public safety chiefs, and offer your EMS support at no charge for training events or emergency standby events occurring in the community. Provide EMS services on site in case of injury or illness during fire-ground training or police exercises. Find common opportunities to train together and share expertise. For example, EMS can teach CPR to other local agencies, while local police can instruct your workforce in crime scene management or active shooter response.

8. Involve EMS senior leadership in community organizations

Your organization’s senior leadership should be involved in local community organizations as active members or officers, including chambers of commerce, civic organizations and local community coalitions. Networking with powerful community leaders in these groups can prove invaluable.

9. Use every encounter as an opportunity for community outreach

Finally, remember that each encounter with patients, their families, bystanders or even kids at the corner lemonade stand present opportunities for community outreach. Convey your caring and by approaching each situation, whether during an emergency call or during a stop at the local diner for lunch, as a chance to listen and learn, as well as to educate when appropriate.

More ideas for community involvement and partnerships include:

  • Launch an EMS Explorer program for teens interested in EMS.
  • Host a breakfast with a local merchant association.
  • Host an EMS day at a local soup kitchen or food pantry.
  • Select several patients for a home for the holidays encounter.
  • Conduct regular community CPR training events.
  • Partner with local hospitals or businesses to inspect and/or distribute child safety seats.

Ideas for community involvement are limited only by the imaginations of you and your colleagues. The more you engage with the public and community leaders, the greater their awareness of the critical role your organization plays in their lives.

About the author
Thomas Little is a senior consultant for Fitch & Associates, where he has led operational assessments and directed several regional paramedic services for some of the firm’s clients. A veteran practicing field medic and leader in emergency medical services, he has directed several EMS systems across the Midwest, representing multiple different service models, organizational structures and agency affiliations.

He previously owned Medevac MidAmerica, serving Kansas and Missouri, where he oversaw the successful transition of the organization when it was acquired by American Medical Response. His expertise includes clinical and operational practices and procedures, standard and guideline development , budget management, strategic planning and implementation, and public affairs.

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