NC county EMS agency field tests body-worn cameras

The cameras include a live-streaming capability that allows a doctor to log on to a server to view real-time footage and help render care


Jessica Horne
The Robesonian, Lumberton, N.C.

LUMBERTON, N.C. — Robeson County paramedics and residents can feel a little safer Wednesday, the day some county EMS personnel donned body cameras in an effort to protect paramedics from assault and to provide the best care to patients.

Wednesday marks the start of a 14-day testing and evaluation phase for six body cameras being incorporated into patient care, said Nestor Rivera, Robeson County EMS Quality Assurance and Quality Improvement specialist and paramedic. Three will be worn during the day shift and three on the night shift.

The body-worn cameras will protect paramedics and residents, Robeson County EMS leaders say.
The body-worn cameras will protect paramedics and residents, Robeson County EMS leaders say. (Photo/Robeson County EMS)

Each Reveal body-worn camera can store up to 12 hours of continuous imaging and costs $599. The cameras will work in conjunction with dash cameras already installed in ambulances.

The EMS service hasn't decided whether or not it will buy 18 or 32 cameras, using donated money.

"When you have video footage, it's easier to prosecute," Rivera said. "It's for safety."

The cameras can help record altercations and assaults between the public and EMS workers, he said.

In 2020, three county paramedics were assaulted within a two-month span. One assault involved a female paramedic who was kicked in the face while trying to render care.

"We're healers, we shouldn't have to deal with this stuff," Rivera said.

Bulletproof vests were explored as an equipment option for paramedics responding to high-risk calls, but vests expire after five years, he said. And most of the time, police clear the scene of a shots-fired call.

"It seems like the cameras are what we should go with first," said Dr. Tim Smith, Robeson County EMS medical director.

Smith said vests could be added to EMS workers' equipment in the future.

"There's a lot of benefits with body cams," Rivera said.

Cameras can help deescalate situations, provide safety, enhance training and improve patient care, he said.

Often, telling people they are being recorded deescalates a situation, Rivera said. Video footage, which will be stored securely in the company's server, can help paramedics provide even better services and address areas where more training is needed.

"We really want to see our paramedics, how they perform under stress," Smith said.

The cameras also have a live-streaming capability that allows a doctor to log on to a server to view real-time footage and help render care, Rivera said. The concept incorporates telehealth and telemedicine.

Rivera spoke Tuesday about the policies surrounding the cameras to five members of the Field Training Officer Program during a meeting at the Robeson County Emergency Operations Center. Members of the program help train new Robeson County EMS employees and paramedics.

One EMS worker asked about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act as it relates to protecting the privacy of a trauma patient whose clothes must be removed for medical care.

The video will be stored in a secure location, and only released upon the service of a subpoena or in response to a request from the Robeson County District Attorney's Office, Rivera said.

"We're not going to compromise our patients," he said.

Some footage, which may be used for training, will be edited to blur the faces of patients, Rivera said. Footage will be uploaded each day at the end of each shift onto the secure server.

Paramedic Brian Springer tried on a body camera during the meeting, as Rivera explained how to use the devices.

"I think it's a positive thing," Springer said of adding cameras.

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(c)2021 The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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