When a medical emergency happens, the first people to provide care are EMS providers. This week, May 21–27, communities around the country will honor first responders during National EMS Week.
Here in Nevada County, our EMS providers have always faced unique challenges in their efforts to provide timely care to residents.
“Responding to 911 calls in a rural community can lead to a variety of challenges for paramedics and EMTs,” explains Paul Legge, EMS Operations Manager at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “We often face situations with unmarked roads and driveways, difficult ingress and egress routes to access our patients, and extended response times to remote locations of the county. We frequently use our 4-wheel drive capabilities to traverse underdeveloped and unmaintained roads, steep driveways and severe inclement weather conditions.”
Sierra Nevada Ambulance responds to over 10,000 calls for service annually and transports roughly 8,000 patients in western Nevada County every year.
“In Nevada County, we have the privilege of the hospital owning the 911 ambulance service and so in many ways, we bring the hospital to you,” Legge says. “In addition to 911 calls, we handle transfers from SNMH to other specialty locations as needed. You could say that we are a full-service operation.”
In a rural setting like Nevada County, paramedics need to prepare for advanced and complicated situations. These situations often include longer transport times to the hospital. For dedicated first responders like Legge and his team, that means more time to do what they are passionate about — caring for patients.
“One of the best things about responding to EMS calls in rural Nevada County is that personalized care stands out,” Legge says. “Paramedics get more time with their patients. We have an excellent working relationship with the emergency physicians and nurses at SNMH and that leads to an impressive integrated care for the community, with a quick transfer of care when arriving at the hospital.”
In recent years, the care that is provided in the back of an ambulance has become exponentially more complex. Because of that, the industry standard for education, training and equipment has increased substantially. This advanced training now allows paramedics and EMTs to provide advanced care that starts the moment they respond to a call.
“In today’s EMS, we routinely perform 12-lead EKGs, consult with ED physicians on complicated situations and have a number of advanced tools, medications and interventions to deliver lifesaving care as needed,” Legge says.
This past winter, Legge and his team faced a historic crisis that made delivering that exceptional care more challenging than ever before.
“This winter's snowstorm resulted in a record volume of 911 medical and traumatic emergencies for our team in the month of March,” he explains. “Under normal weather conditions, this would be an impressive accomplishment. When you add severe weather conditions, everything becomes definitively more difficult, dangerous and time-consuming.”
That strong, collaborative relationship between the EMS crews and the hospital doctors and staff proved incredibly important during the winter storm, as everyone worked together to ensure the community continued to receive exceptional care when it was needed.
“I’ve never seen more heroism and selfless service in my 20 years being a paramedic,” Legge says. “Many of our own staff were also personally impacted with fallen trees, power outages and crisis situations because of the snow yet found a way to come serve our community in their time of need.”
While the first responders were happy to put this year’s winter season behind them, looking to the future they acknowledge that fire season can also be problematic.
“We have learned that power outages can lead to difficult situations for patients who rely on power for medical equipment,” he says. “Smokey conditions can lead to unflyable conditions for helicopters and so we prepare to handle unique emergencies without them. We have augmented our preparation and training for future emergencies with the help of Nevada County Public Health and have prepared additional ambulances to increase staffing should the need arise.”
Legge says that collaborative spirit is at the core of the incredible care that is available in our community – both inside and outside hospital walls.
“We work closely with the fire department and law enforcement on 911 calls to help deliver a unified first responder presence to the community,” Legge says. “Our paramedics and EMTs work hard to deliver on Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s core values of bringing compassionate and excellent care to our patients in their time of crisis.”