EMS shows how to give back during the holidays

By Maveric Vu
EMS1 Staff

Photo courtesy of Colorado Springs AMR
A Colorado Springs AMR employee transports an elderly patient to his family's home through the "Home for the Holidays" program.

For many individuals, the holiday season is a time to be thankful for the good things in life and to pass on this sentiment by helping others.

This mentality is a common thread running through EMS and fire departments across the nation. While paramedics and EMTs are known for saving patients on a daily basis, they shift their focus to humanitarian efforts especially during the holiday season.

One program highlighted by the National Association of EMTs is “Home for the Holidays,” in which patients residing in skilled nursing facilities are transported by ambulance to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with their families.

The program has been a major success at American Medical Response in Colorado Springs, which has participated in “Home for the Holidays” for more than 15 years. Colorado Springs transports about 10 to 15 participants to and from homes on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve/Day.

“We endeavor to schedule as many of these transports as we can,” said Mark Bruning, COO for AMR’s Central Division. “It’s very, very gratifying, having done a number of them myself.”

Bruning recounted one Thanksgiving in particular where he transported a young woman who was impaired due to significant brain injury. When they arrived at her home, the woman’s cat jumped on her lap excitedly. The woman was visibly moved with emotion, Bruning said.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” he said. “To see the reaction on the family’s faces, I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”

EMS departments from around the nation also have similar programs in place, such as Rural/Metro’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in El Dorado, Ark., and a successful, similarly-themed program by AMR in Billings, Mont.

“We simply want to give back to families,” said Jim Webber, operations manager for Billings AMR. “We go to skilled nursing facilities everyday and see individuals who don’t have a mechanism to get back home during the holiday season.”

Webber said the first step in implementing a transport program is to determine the desire and the available resources to make it happen. Then, EMS departments should contact their local skilled nursing facility to see how many participants would be interested.

EMS personnel must determine the necessities of each patient by speaking with the patient’s primary care physician, Webber said. He highlighted the following logistics:

  • Determine whether or not the patient is able to be without medical attention for four to five hours.
  • Determine the necessary equipment is available at the family’s home, such as oxygen devices or a comfortable resting area.
  • Coordinate specific drop off and pick up times for the patient.

Collectively, departments should look carefully at available resources and personnel and should only commit to transporting a reasonable number of patients, said Bruning.

Both Bruning and Webber said the most important factor for giving back during the holiday season is communicating with other agencies and groups in order to determine the services that each community needs the most.

Bruning said EMS personnel are always eager to give back, and not just during the holidays.

“We’re surrounded by people — at hospitals, fire departments, everywhere – who are like-minded,” Bruning said. “It’s very easy to mobilize people to help.

“The type of person who works in EMS to begin with is someone who wants to give back. There are a lot of people out there who are doing a lot of great things. It’s one of the hallmarks of our profession.”


EMS1 would like to acknowledge the humanitarian efforts of EMS departments from around the nation. Please keep spreading the holiday spirit throughout 2008. Does your department have a holiday success story that you’d like to share? Email us at editor@ems1.com.

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