Bertie EMS celebrates one year

Published 7:16 pm Saturday, January 24, 2015

AULANDER – A year ago in December there was a bankrupt medical services provider, a state of emergency declaration, and finally, the county assuming daily operation of its emergency medical services system.

A year later, Bertie County Emergency Medical Services division can say “what doesn’t defeat me will make me stronger”.

At the monthly night meeting of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners held at the Aulander Community Building, Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper wasn’t looking back on the troubles of December 2013.  Instead, he and EMS Division Chief Matt Leicester reported to the Commissioners the exceptional year Bertie EMS had in 2014.

“From Dec. 9, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2014 it’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears shed to get where we’re at and we’ve overcome a lot of mountains,” Cooper began. “But we want to ensure the public that we’re providing the highest level of care that’s possible in North Carolina and we’re maintaining the highest quality of care provided for many years by the volunteers of this county.”

Leicester then presented an overview of 2014 as well as a prospectus for the new year.

For the entire year Bertie EMS answered 3,462 responses in an average chute time (from pager to en route) of just over 77-and-two-thirds seconds, and a response time (pager to on scene) of 10.13 minutes.  94 percent of the time they had a response time of less than 20 minutes for all calls, with the state-required EMS average at 90 percent.

“Some citizens have asked why we have trucks sitting at Whites Cross or Mt.Olive,” Leicester explained. “The biggest reason is because when the truck goes out we move a truck so we can maintain that 90 percent not just for the first call, but for all calls.”

Leicester said the goal of EMS responders during cardiac arrest is ROSC (Return of Spontaneous Circulation), meaning the regaining of a pulse.  In the field (on calls), Bertie EMS’ ROSC rate for the year was 45 percent.  He says of 29 field calls, 13 were resuscitated.

“That’s through the hard work of our crews,” Leicester said. “The state EMS director says that is a wonderful number for a county this size, and there are very few counties that can compete with that number.”

For 2015, Bertie EMS will continue to participate in the RACE CARS program (Regional Approach to Cardiovascular Emergencies Cardiac Arrest Resuscitation System) begun last year. RACE CARS makes up the largest statewide system of emergency cardiovascular care, coordinating 122 hospitals and 540 EMS agencies to rapidly diagnose and provide emergency treatment for heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest. Part of this strategy includes community education and reducing disparities in Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) treatment.

“We hope to implement this in full this year, and it’s a no-cost thing for the county,” Leicester said.

Bertie EMS will also participate in another cardiac care study called SUDDEN.

“The goal here is to investigate the causes of and be able to reduce sudden death in North Carolina,” Leicester said. “These will be people who, for no apparent reason normally, have a sudden, unexpected death. They are concerned with under-reporting in low socio-economic areas and racial disparity. We will be one of the first predominately rural counties to participate in this study.”

Leicester also revealed that Bertie EMS had applied for a FEMA grant available to fire departments used to purchase protective, training, or fitness equipment. He has asked for six Lifepak cardiac monitors valued at $205,320, and personal protective equipment for crews working inside a vehicle during extraction valued at $93,190 for a total request of $298,510.

“We can apply for this year after year,” Leicester stated. “It’s a general pool of money that everybody in the United States competes for, and we have put in for high-priority items and we’re cautiously optimistic that this can all get approved in one shot this year.”

He also noted that he is one of only two North Carolina EMS directors that have been appointed to serve on the EMS for Children Advisory Council.  The council would review the best practices and guide training and education on improving outcomes for children in the state.  He also wants Bertie County to become a car-seat check point so parents can have their child’s car seats inspected regularly and make sure they are installed properly because currently there are no active sites in the county.

During questioning, Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore requested clarification on the location of the EMS trucks given the geography of the county, and Commissioner Stuart White asked about the activity of the four EMS Paramedic trucks.

“I don’t think we would be able to go from the 94 percent response time (of under 20 minutes) without adding more trucks,” Leicester explained. “Even if (the EMT’s) are sitting in that truck when the pager goes off and drive as hard as they can drive it’s still going to be tough to reach certain areas of the county in 20 minutes. The positioning of trucks allows them to be closer to cut down response time and makes it a lot safer. They don’t leave the area until there is another truck back in service.”

Leicester agreed to provide, upon request, a map that shows EMS responses across Bertie County.

Finally, Leicester revealed that the EMS Cadet program began the second week of the month, paid for by Roanoke-Chowan Community College and taught at the old Bertie High School, four days a week.

“This is a chance for these students interested in the health-care professions to come in and take the EMT class and when they finish they’re able to sit for the state test and come out with a certification upon completion of that test and they have an opportunity to have a job when they leave anywhere in the state,” Leicester reported. “And, of course if they want to stay here and come work with us, we’re okay with that, too.”

As the presentation concluded, Commission Chairman Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson informed those present that Bertie County was the first county in the state to offer paramedic level service on every 9-1-1 call, and that board-certified Emergency Physicians are offered at Vidant Bertie Hospital 24 hours a day/seven days a week.

“It’s great to hear them talk about what a difference our paramedic care has made when patients arrive at the hospital,” Wesson said. “That’s not to knock the volunteers, but this is a real leap of faith and a real leap of service to our citizens.”