EMS resiliency will pave the way for solutions to shared challenges

Collaboration, support and sharing non-traditional approaches are essential in this world of moving goal posts


When we ask readers to gauge their agency’s level of preparedness, we ask about specific threats to safety and resources: e.g., cybercrime, MCIs, an active shooter, civil unrest. To say 2020 presented an unanticipated combination of trials and tests is an understatement.

Yet, day after day, we saw the evidence of EMS providers, educators and leaders persevering, adapting and growing to meet these challenges head on. EMS1’s 2020 Year in Review special coverage series honored the commitment and sacrifices of providers, while highlighting the heartwarming, the wins, and the lessons we learned to shape the future.

As part of the package, we asked EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board members, columnist and friends at national EMS organizations to help us reframe 2020 by offering positive takeaways to guide future EMS delivery.

As David K. Tan, MD, EMT-T, FAEMS, noted, 2020’s challenges brought about many unconventional solutions; and “leaders must not be afraid to continue developing new and non-traditional approaches to recurring challenges even after things may return to ‘normal.’”
As David K. Tan, MD, EMT-T, FAEMS, noted, 2020’s challenges brought about many unconventional solutions; and “leaders must not be afraid to continue developing new and non-traditional approaches to recurring challenges even after things may return to ‘normal.’” (Photo/courtesy St. Charles County Ambulance District)

The responses were inspiring, highlighting the progress EMS made in cementing its role in the broader continuum of care, and offering advice for leaders to harness that momentum for advocacy and for progress. As David K. Tan, MD, EMT-T, FAEMS, noted, 2020’s challenges brought about many unconventional solutions; and “leaders must not be afraid to continue developing new and non-traditional approaches to recurring challenges even after things may return to ‘normal.’”

Below are a few excerpts that represent the overarching message: reflect on what we’ve accomplished and open the lines of communication to learn the challenges, and unique solutions we can achieve through collaboration.

Find the full Roundtable responses here.

Mistakes are the foundation of experience

In the job we do, it is vital we are always learning lessons and staying positive. I reminded people a lot this year of the equation: mistakes + reflection = wisdom. This year was certainly a year for developing wisdom. The one positive takeaway for me was that EMS as a profession is resilient, professional and sets the standards for other fields to follow. Even though many time EMS is overlooked in healthcare, we always display the best face when it is needed. Cheers to all my peers, I’m proud to be an EMS provider.

Leadership is an action not a position. Everyone has to continue to grow and learn from mistakes. We have been sold this bill of goods that mistakes and failure is a bad thing. Yet, experiences come from mistakes, mistakes from a lack of experience. If we think back, what have we done great the first time we did it? How do you grow from 2020? Use your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and reflect when necessary.

— Chris Cebollero, president/CEO for Cebollero & Associates

Listen to your people

When there is funding and a cohesion of interest from invested parties, solving hard problems in innovative and efficient ways is possible. The pandemic created an opportunity for novel solutions that needed to be created on the fly, and people delivered. Some of these ideas were great (wear a mask), some of these ideas seem not so great if we look back (intubation boxes anyone?) and researchers across the spectrum of public health, public safety and emergency services will be evaluating them for years to come.

Listen to your people. The pandemic has required leaders to be more nimble than ever before as our day-to-day understanding of the virus evolves. Being a leader means that your followers are willing to trust you in this world of moving goal posts. This is only possible if they feel their concerns and fears are being heard and acknowledged.

Catherine Counts, PHD, MHA, health services researcher, Seattle Medic One, University of Washington School of Medicine

Catapult EMS into essential service status

One positive outcome from 2020 is the alignment of the major national EMS associations regarding the legislative and regulatory initiatives. For years, EMS has heard from legislative officials that the lack of industry alignment hobbles our ability to make substantive regulatory and legislative changes. To coordinate and leverage efforts for all EMS providers and agency types, the American Ambulance Association, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters and National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians have joined forces in issues such as PPE, COVID-19 testing, vaccines and Medicare reimbursement for treatment in place. It’s a partnership that has been very effective and includes weekly conference calls with the volunteer, executive and government affairs staff from each organization.

The rising level of awareness and outpouring of support of EMS providers and agencies as part of the frontline healthcare system gives EMS the opportunity to enhance our role in the larger healthcare system. Throughout most of 2020, local communities witnessed the way EMS agencies helped manage the myriad of challenges related to the public health emergency. During a national webinar with health officials, EMS was referenced as “the Swiss Army Knife” of healthcare – “they can do anything!” As you read this, EMS agencies across the country are working with state and local health officials as a key component of the COVID-19 vaccine administration strategy. EMS leaders should seize the opportunity to use the recognition and acknowledgement of what EMS can do and catapult EMS into essential service status.

— Matt Zavadsky, MS-HSA, EMT, chief strategic integration officer, MedStar Mobile Healthcare, Fort Worth, Texas; and president, NAEMT

Share the wins

The speed with which targeted research related to the COVID-19 pandemic has been conducted has been unprecedented and impressive. Turnaround times for incredibly difficult types of research, such as vaccination efficacy, have been magnitudes faster than they have historically, and the amount of clinically relevant research that was rapidly conducted and evaluated in order to quickly ensure the safety of our frontline healthcare workers has been extraordinary.

Research and data acquisition in the pre-hospital setting has always faced additional challenges because of its unique environments. As we as a profession continue to grow and adapt in our pre-hospital responses both to COVID-19, as well as everyday, non-pandemic emergencies, we should continue to actively reflect on and quantitatively examine our adaptations and their impacts on patient care. Lessons learned should be shared with others within our profession; this is a year we will get through by collaborating and supporting one another.

Emily Pearce, BS, EMT-P, FAWM, DiMM, paramedic; medical student, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Download the Roundtable: How the positive takeaways will guide future EMS delivery

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