EMS Week celebrates 40 years of service

Over the past four decades, EMS agencies have seen expanded EMT roles, a shift toward patient transfers, improvements in advanced life support, and better ambulances

By Ryan D. Wilson
Clay Center Dispatch

CLAY CENTER, Kan. — Providing Emergency Medical Service through the county’s ambulance department takes a team of not just emergency medical technicians (EMTs), but also a whole network of health care and public safety responders, EMS officials said. 

EMS week, which runs from May 18 to 24 this year, is in it’s 40th year, and in that time Emergency Medical Services has “changed roles” with in the community, within the health care system and as part of the public safety network, said Clay County EMS director Marvin Van Blaricon.

More training, technology, interdependency

Like public safety and law enforcement agencies, EMS employees are called upon 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, Van Blaricon said. For that reason, it’s important for the department to foster a good relationship with fire and police agencies, who respond to the same calls they do; and with the hospitals and medical staff whom they take patients to.

“We have a (more) combined health care system,” Van Blaricon said.

Technology, more training, and more protocols have made EMTS more efficient and better equipped to provide a higher quality of care and to extend that care, Van Blaricon said. Now there are several types of EMTs, more interdependency between the EMS department and sister agencies, and more that’s expected of the EMS department.

“EMS now has become more involved not only as it applies to preliminary care ... but also patients get more definitive care,” he said.

More training is required to become an EMT, but also, to remain certified as an EMT, he said.

Shift toward transfers

Transfers for patients from one hospital to another is now a big part of what the department does. Transfers have increased as hospitals have specialized to provide specific services not offered everywhere. This is particularly true of rural hospitals, who have the capacity to provide immediate life-saving care but will refer patients to a bigger hospital for certain traumatic or specialized surgeries and services.

Such transfers have increased “big time,” Van Blaricon said.

“We’re not only taking patients out of the emergency room who need more advanced care at a bigger hospital, we’re also transferring patients to the right hospital (for the care they need),” Van Blaricon said.

It’s no longer the case that patients have to be taken to the local hospital, Clay County Medical Center. In some cases, a patient may be better served to be taken directly to another hospital. A patient from a car wreck in the southwestern part of the county, for example, would be better served by going directly to Salina Mercy Regional Hospital, a hospital they would likely be transferred to later anyway.

Advanced life support improves care

Adding advanced life support to Clay County EMS a couple years ago not only means better monitoring by equipment, but also by a different type of EMT.

Advanced EMTs, a new type of EMT, is a cross between a paramedic, which requires a lot training, and a basic EMT.

Advanced EMTS have the ability to provide advanced life support, can dispense certain medications and do more for airway support and other emergency procedures best done immediately.

While an advanced EMT isn’t quite a paramedic, the department can use this type of EMT for a lot of things a paramedic does. This helps the department address staffing needs, which frankly is a challenge for a rural ambulance service, Van Blaricon said.

“It’s better for us to be able to more efficiently send the right people to provide that care,” Van Blaricon said.

And while staffing is always a challenge in a field where EMTs can get good training here and in a few years move somewhere that pays significantly more, Van Blaricon said the department is much better shape than it has been in the past.

Good employees “makes a big difference,” he said.

“We do have excellent employees who step up the plate when we need them to,” he said. “They do a tremendous job.”

Improved ambulances on the horizon

The new garage addition being built will help Clay County EMS meet other challenges -- namely housing the taller, more complex new ambulances the department will gradually switch to.

The new addition will also allow them to wash and service ambulances at that location and house supplies.

Soon the county will send out bids for a new ambulance. Two of the ambulances need to be replaced, Van Blaricon said, one has 130,000 miles on it, the other, 118,000. They won’t replace them at the same time, but it’s possible another new ambulance will be bought within a couple years a buying the first new ambulance. Fortunately, the county is prep eared to do that, Van Blaricon said. 

More beautification for the EMS building is planned by re-siding or re-tinning the existing structure, and the department is holding a competition among high school students for the design of a new sign.

Tours of the new building are planned sometime in late June after work is complete.

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