Archived Story

County looking to change EMS leadership

Published 8:15pm Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Along with revising the system’s overall manual to keep up with state requirements, Dr. Owens said in 2002 county commissioners voted to increase the minimal level of participation for volunteers from “medical responders,” which requires 69 hours of training, to an EMT level, which mandates 170 hours of training.

Gage said this was one of two key issues current commissioners feel are hampering the county’s EMS system from fully functioning.

“We’ve been trying to look into why we no longer recognize [medical responders] and how we can get back to recognizing [medical responders] again,” Gage said. “It causes a real problem as far as the safety of the community goes.”

He said this puts a wall up for many people willing to volunteer their time to do, if nothing else, drive the ambulance.

Owens said this change was made 10 years ago to ensure that any first responder who shows up on site has the proper training to administer the best care possible.

“They are just much better able to recognize what is going on and react appropriately to a medical situation,” Owens said. “That’s huge, that’s a huge increase in skill and a huge increase in being able to save lives.”

Owens said she does understand however that with an increase in skill comes an increase in the commitment volunteers must make to training and certification.

“Most volunteers in the county are doing this on their own time and sacrifice much, including time with their families, to help people in need,” Owens said.

Gage said commissioners are also incredibly concerned that bruised relationships within the system cause EMS to loose volunteers.

“We’ve got to have a system where the volunteers and the doc, the medical director, have respect for each other,” Gage said. “That goes two ways but I don’t think we have had that for a long time.”

In the county’s effort to replace Dr. Owens and take the system in a new direction, Gage said commissioners have instructed interim county manager Marche Pittman to device a plan of action.

“We’ve directed the county manager to start the process of figuring out how we are going to [find a medical director]. He’s going to formulate a plan of how we are going to do it and decide where we are going from there,” Gage said.

Gage said an interim director could be appointed if necessary and that the commission has area doctors they believe would step in if needed. For the time being however, Dr. Owens has agreed to stay in the position.

“We’re fortunate that Dr. Owens said she would stay and help us,” Gage said. “We’re not going to accelerate the process; we’ve got to make this work. It’s going to be hard but we’ve got to make sure people in the county are safe.”

Dr. Owens said she couldn’t have consciously walked away from the position because she said it would have put the county’s residents in danger.

Without a medical director in place, Owens said, first responders and paramedics would be stripped of their ability to administer medicines, start IVs, secure airways and use EPI pens. The only medical treatment responders can provide in the absence of a medical director is to administer CPR, give oxygen and transport patients to the hospital.

“It matters to me – the health and safety of our community – and that’s why I’m still here, despite what has happened over the past few weeks,” said Dr. Owens.

The Tryon Daily Bulletin plans to follow up on this article with a series of pieces concerning the requirements placed on county emergency medical volunteers, looking into what commissioners said are strained relationships within the system and how the county proceeds in its search for a new director, among other related topics.

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