Rising to the challenge

Reflect on the past 5, 10, 15 years to see how far EMS has come


It’s EMS Week 2022, and this year’s theme is “Rising to the Challenge.”

Sometimes, I wonder if NAEMSP has some sort of algorithm it uses to randomly choose yearly EMS week themes, like the old corporate buzzword generators you used to see on the internet:

“Seamlessly leverage flexible infrastructures by energistically innovating hyper-scale sprints.”

EMS is making progress, but one thing I understand is that when you’re in the middle of these changes, it’s hard to detect any positive movement. It’s only in looking back where we were 5, 10 or 15 years ago that we see how far we’ve come.
EMS is making progress, but one thing I understand is that when you’re in the middle of these changes, it’s hard to detect any positive movement. It’s only in looking back where we were 5, 10 or 15 years ago that we see how far we’ve come. (Photo/Virginia Beach Fire Department)

Write that one on your annual performance evaluation where it asks you what your personal and professional improvement goals are, then giggle imagining your operations manager trying to make sense of it.

My world-weary cynicism aside, there is much to celebrate about EMS triumphs in the past year. While you’re in the middle of your tenth call of the shift or you’re working mandated overtime because of staffing shortages, it’s hard to see the good, but it’s there if you look closely.

See the good

The ET3 pilot program is making strides. EMS agencies around the country are demonstrating that fee-for-service is a viable reimbursement model as opposed to fee-for-transport. Agencies are building upon the innovative measures they took to manage system demand during the height of the COVID pandemic.

Not content to just give a dose of naloxone and transport, agencies and paramedics devised innovative follow-up and support programs to help break the cycle of opiate addiction.

Salaries are going up – maybe not everywhere, maybe not at your agency, but the trend is definitely upward. Some agencies have made modest increases to salaries, while others have massively increased their employees’ compensation.

Agencies are becoming more clinically progressive, adopting more advanced treatments and diagnostic methods based upon sound evidence-based medicine. Progressive medical directors are leading the way, emboldened to challenge the status quo of regulatory ceilings and lowest-common-denominator card certification courses.

EMS is making progress, but one thing I understand is that when you’re in the middle of these changes, it’s hard to detect any positive movement. It’s only in looking back where we were 5, 10 or 15 years ago that we see how far we’ve come.

And the main reason we’ve done that is that EMS rises to the challenge.

We come to work in the height of a global pandemic, work endless overtime shifts when our workforce is ravaged by the disease and still somehow manage to meet the demand.

When the operational tempo and the workload threatens to crush us, threatening our emotional wellbeing, we still look out for each other. Sure, it would be nice if our employers went beyond burgers and pizza and tchotchkes during EMS Week and treated us as the most valuable component of their organization all year long – and many are starting to get the message – but we look out for each other. The most valuable tool we having in maintaining mental wellness is peer support, and that begins with, well … our peers. Our coworkers are rising to the challenge in filling the gaps in care for mental illness, gaps that affect far more than just EMS workers.

Despite the mental and emotional drain of constantly running, worrying about what we’re being exposed to, worrying about what we’re bringing home to our families, we’re still treating our patients with dignity and respect.

When a hospital trip isn’t in the patient’s – or the system’s – best interest, we find a way. When the patient’s condition requires more creative problem-solving than medical treatment, as so many of our patients do, we devise alternatives.

Whether it’s calling a neighbor to take care of the pets, or reaching out to the patient’s church to build that wheelchair ramp Mrs. Jones so desperately needs, or distributing discount prescription vouchers, or coming by after our shift is over to finish mowing Mr. Smith’s lawn after he collapses from heat exhaustion trying to do it himself, we do what needs to be done.

In the past year, we excelled in our role as the professional troubleshooters of healthcare.

We rose to the challenge, like EMS always has.

Take a bow, EMS. Job well done.

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