Allegheny Health Network Wexford Hospital unveiled its newest emergency resource last week: a Paramedic Response Unit vehicle that will assist first responders at crisis scenes across Allegheny, Beaver and Butler counties.
The unit will work in collaboration with the region's community-based EMS agencies to provide general assistance at scenes, particularly when patients require additional supportive care and in instances of mass casualties.
'Extra set of hands'
“The main goal is to assist EMS agencies who may need an extra set of hands on a call, or an extra set of eyes to help out and care for the patient,” said Wesley Semple, manager of prehospital operations. “If they were to need assistance, they could request us through the 911 center and have us dispatched to respond to assist.”
The vehicle, an SUV-sized van, is not equipped to transport a patient to the hospital. Instead, the unit carries specialized life support equipment that an ambulance would carry, which its paramedic staff can bring to a scene that requires extra assistance.
“If they call us and need our assistance, we would respond to that scene to help, and we will park the vehicle there, jump on board with them and give assistance,” said Nico Soler, prehospital business development specialist.
“One of the specialized pieces of equipment we carry is a LUCAS device. Essentially, it's a device that will do CPR for you,” Soler explained. “Doing CPR continuously is very tiresome, and as you get tired you lose quality of compressions. So, this machine is an asset we can provide to the scene to help out the CPR process.”
Semple said the goal of the unit is specifically not to handle a scene on its own.
“Our goal is to be there to support them, we're not there to take the call over, we're not there to tell them what to do,” Semple said. “We're there to be a good partner and help them in any way we can — the whole goal of this is to help the communities out and help our EMS partners out in these challenging times.”
Soler hopes the new vehicle will help alleviate shortages in the EMS sector in Butler County.
“They only have so many ambulance services per community,” he said. “In the case of a mass casualty incident, they are pooling additional mutual aid resources from other communities. Depending on the volume of cases in communities involved, there's always a risk that there is a lack of providers to assist you. In this case, the truck will be able to respond and will at least have an extra paramedic on the scene to help out.”
Staffing the new unit without putting an extra burden on other providers in the area, Soler said, raised new questions.
“When we were putting the unit together, obviously one of the resources we needed was staff,” he said. “How do you pull staff members from the area to staff your unit without adding to the shortage that is already there? We were very careful to limit the amount of full-timers and rely more on a part-time crew, so they could still work for their home service as well as (this unit).”
The unit is staffed by three full-time employees and six casual employees, which Semple said was an intentional balancing act.
“We could have chosen four full-timers and less casuals, but the goal was for us to not steal providers from another service,” Semple said. “We opted to hire more casuals, which gave us the opportunity to bring more seasoned providers in to cover shifts, but not take a provider away from the local agencies to cause them a staffing challenge.”
Extra hands on the scene
On Nov. 15, paramedic Megan Lenz worked the first shift in the new vehicle. On Wednesday, she said, the crew visited a number of different local EMS services to introduce the truck's resources to the community.
“We have multiple kinds of options we can do,” she said. “This morning, there was a cardiac arrest, so someone wasn't breathing and they didn't have a pulse. That requires multiple advanced, trained providers to take care of that situation. So, we can go and help them, and be an extra set of hands with some specialized equipment.”
The unit can also provide “quick response service,” or QRS, Lenz said.
“If a call comes in, and there's no ambulance available, we can get there and start patient care, and try to stabilize the patient,” Lenz said.
While the vehicle will likely be mostly working with Cranberry Township EMS and Quality EMS in Butler County, Lenz said the unit can drive anywhere that it is requested.
“If I'm driving through Mars because I happened to be popping in, and there is a call that is maybe Butler EMS, and it is close to where I am, I could say, 'Hey, I'm here and I'm available,'” she said. “I imagine we'll end up doing some work with Harmony EMS as well on (Interstate) 79.”