EMS and Emergency Management Coordinator Featured in Local Paper
* This is a reprint of an article that ran in the Granite State News on May 10, 2018.
May 20-26 is National EMS Week presented by the American College of Emergency Physicians and the National Association of EMTs.
BY ELISSA PAQUETTE
A line of pagers stand within easy reach alongside one wall of Janet Williamson's office in Huggin's Hospital's Emergency Department. Williamson is the hospital's EMS and Emergency Management Coordinator. She listens to the scanners for any alert that she might need to respond to as we talk about her work.
It's only while she sleeps that her scanners are off. The pager remains on. If the tone sounds for her, she's up and out the door as fast as possible.That's her life. She is a first responder for the Wakefield Fire and Rescue Department and Frisbee Hospital in addition to her Huggins Hospital position, which is full time.
That's typical within her field, she says, for there is a shortage of paramedics, whose training goes beyond that of Emergency Medical Technicians. Most have two or three jobs.
Williamson is available through Huggins Hospital's Paramedic Intercept Program to respond from the hospital with an ambulance service to a home, the scene of a motor vehicle accident, or to meet up with an ambulance en route to the hospital. In that case, she jumps into the ambulance to assist the ambulance crew.A plaque on her wall from the state commends her service as a partner in the Carroll County Coalition for Public Health (CCCPH). She explains that there are 13 such entities around the state, each affiliated with a hospital, in this case, Huggins. Federal grants support and encourage the coalitions as a means to draw in a number of different partners to deal with matters of public health.
The opioid crisis and substance misuse remains front and center. New Hampshire had the third-highest rate of overdose deaths among the states in 2017, behind West Virginia and Ohio. Deaths from overdose have risen from 201 in 2011, to 466 in 2017.
From 2015 to 2016, the greatest percentage increase in the drug overdose death rates occurred among adults aged 15–24, 25–34, and 35–44 with increases of 28 percent, 29 percent, and 24 percent, respectively, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
A couple of years ago, says Williamson, each community had its own viewpoint of what to do. The partnership with CCCPH has brought increased knowledge of the treatment resources in the county and a sharing of information through forums and regular meetings that include medical professionals, treatment providers and law enforcement, from the courts, state police and sheriff's department down to the local level. What that means to her out in the field is that she has information to impart to patients and/or friends and family members, if they care to hear it of course.
From the drug user's perspective, says Williamson, “We've just cost them their high.” And in some cases, “They don't believe they were unconscious. Sometimes I'll show them an EKG strip before and after resuscitation or point to the red mark on their chest (an indication of having just received CPR) and ask them, 'Where did you get that?' They're not happy with us.”
Treatment options in New Hampshire are notoriously low. The state ranks second to last when it comes to access, but she knows that the Green Mountain Treatment Center in Effingham is available (it's busy and beds are full),White Horse Addiction Center in Ossipee offers intensive outpatient treatment, and providers such as Melissa Fernald, LICSW and MLDAC in Wolfeboro, offers private therapy as well as prevention programs.
Williamson sees prevention programs, such as Fernald's programs for parents, as key to alerting parents to their child's drug use, for on the scene, “Some parents are adamant that their child doesn't use drugs. My heart goes out to parents. I can't begin to imagine finding out that way.”
The partnership has also enhanced community networking in other ways as well. Police departments these days don't always just stop with an arrest. They are known to go a step further and make referrals for help.
Addiction is dangerous not only for those who experience cravings, which can lead to robberies and burglaries in the search for money for a quick fix, says Williamson, but it increases the danger for responders.
“I've had a gun in my face in Rochester,” she reveals. “They are now receiving training on how to reduce risk to themselves. Unfortunately, the danger can tie up police resources as well, “but that's the reality of our world now.”
Four Wolfeboro PD officers responded to subdue a combative person in the emergency room on one occasion, and when a call comes in from the field that holds apparent risk, the police are called to the scene as well. They are there to assure that the responders can do their jobs without interference.
“Expectations from the public are high,” says Williamson. Sometimes ambulance transport is held up as naloxone is given multiple times to the same individual. Revival only lasts about fifteen minutes and if the synthetic heroin, fentanyl, a potent drug, was in the mix taken by the user, resuscitation is more difficult. It's not unusual to have multiple calls come in at once. And the public wants you there, immediately.
Williamson, a 30 year veteran in responding to emergencies with team members to save people's lives, firmly believes that it takes a certain mentality to be a first responder. It becomes a part of your life. She is glad to see a Code Green campaign on the national level that focuses on awareness and education on mental health, PTSD and suicide for all first responders, and that includes not just medical rescuers but firemen and policemen.
In her role as Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, she sees more educational needs coming up. She's adding Active Shooter training to the list along with Narcan application and infectious disease. She's ready to help, as always. That's her job.
By the way, May 20 – 26 is National EMS week, a time to celebrate First Responders. Please follow the rules of the road and pull over when you hear the sirens behind you. Someone is in distress and help is on the way.