Q&A: 2021 Pinnacle conference promises to re-imagine the future of EMS

What we can expect, from inspiring keynote speakers, to leaders on the issues impacting the industry and COVID-19 safety measures


Now in its 15th year, the Pinnacle EMS Leadership Forum will be held at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge, Aug. 9-13, 2021. We spoke with Jay Fitch, PhD, program co-chair, on what to expect this year. For complete program and hotel information, and register here. Follow EMS1 Pinnacle takeaway coverage here.

EMS1: This is the 15th Pinnacle. What changes have you seen in conference topics over the years?

Fitch: What is somewhat surprising is what hasn’t changed. The first Pinnacle dealt with creating efficiencies using system status management and deployment strategies. That’s still being discussed today, although on a much higher level, including the use of artificial intelligence to make predictive analysis for decision support.

ET3, social equity, enhanced quality and leadership strategies, telemedicine, use of AI and reforms in payment will all be addressed at Pinnacle this year.
ET3, social equity, enhanced quality and leadership strategies, telemedicine, use of AI and reforms in payment will all be addressed at Pinnacle this year. (Pinnacle)

What has changed of course is the pandemic and how in many ways it’s accelerated the principles of the EMS Agenda 2050. ET3, social equity, enhanced quality and leadership strategies, telemedicine, use of AI and reforms in payment were all envisioned by the Agenda and will be addressed at Pinnacle this year. Staffing and wellness issues have also taken on new urgency and are a particular focus this year as well.

Jay Fitch, PhD, Pinnacle program co-chair
Jay Fitch, PhD, Pinnacle program co-chair

How is Pinnacle different from other conferences?

We created a conference to appeal to all service models, where leaders from private, public, fire and every manner of configuration can connect and learn from each other. Looking at Pinnacle’s demographics, we succeeded in pulling together a diverse cross section of leaders.

Pinnacle has a reputation as being the premiere networking conference for EMS. We’re always in a beautiful setting, at a luxury resort, in a relaxing environment – instead of a convention center with miles between hotels and the meeting space. We set our schedule, breakfasts, lunches and receptions provided as part of the registration fee with networking in mind.

Pinnacle is known for Keynotes that inspire. This year, Jessica Cox and Greg Mathews will open and close the conference. What can you tell us about what participants can expect?

Jessica’s story of courage and persistence in the face of adversity is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  She is the only person with no arms certified by the FAA as a pilot. Throughout the past year, we’ve all faced challenges dealing with COVID-19. Jessica’s story of her ability to adapt and overcome is not only inspirational, but is also filled real-world examples you can use as you lead your agency.

Greg knows the challenges of being in EMS. A former air force and civilian firefighter/EMT and rescue helicopter pilot, he currently serves as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division antiterrorism officer. Greg spent his whole life striving to serve others, but for all the wrong reasons. He described himself as an adventurer, but after a near fatal encounter with a grizzly bear, Greg turned his life around to become a true leader. His book, “Wild Awakening,” isa gripping story that will help you lead a life of greater purpose," according to previous Pinnacle Keynoter John O’Leary.

What other highlights can we expect?

A number of sessions will speak to the ways in which the pandemic has changed the course of EMS and healthcare. Some of our most knowledgeable leaders, like Dr. Ed Racht, Gregg Margolis, Jon Washko and Asbel Montes will offer unique perspectives on topics facing EMS today. Annual meetings of the National EMS Management Association (NEMSMA) and Academy of International Mobile Healthcare Integration (AIMHI) also take place at Pinnacle. 

The session on the EMS Trend Report, produced by EMS1 and Fitch & Associates, is always popular, and with the COVID-19 experience, will be even more telling this year.

Several sessions address the evolving role of the fire service. Fitch Partner and former Fire Chief Steve Knight, PhD, always brings together interesting fire-based faculty to challenge our assumptions and expectations.

How are you dealing with COVID-19 safety? Pinnacle will be one of the first of a series of public safety and healthcare conferences starting this summer and fall. Are people ready to come back together in a live setting?

Of course, the safety of our participants is our No. 1 priority, and we’ll ensure all guidelines will be followed. Because the JW Marriott Phoenix is such a large hotel, and we’ll host the main meeting there, we’ll have the luxury of spreading out. A few of our speakers, including Dr. Freddy Lippert, CEO of Copenhagen, Denmark’s EMS system, may be remote, but the vast majority will be there in person.

As much as virtual meetings kept us in touch the past 14 months, we sense people are really ready for safe, face-to-face gatherings again, especially as more individuals get vaccinated. Our sponsor area is almost sold out and registration trends are solid. We look forward to reconnecting and recharging! 


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