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New KH ambulances extend EMS reach

Posted: October 25, 2013 5:13 p.m.
Updated: October 28, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County residents may have noticed some new, bright blue and white KershawHealth EMS ambulances around the county recently. These modern-day emergency response vehicles are much more than simply a mode of transportation. They are, in fact, a highly technical extension of the hospital’s emergency department.

“Our EMTs and paramedics have to be ready for anything from a child involved in a minor automobile accident to an adult suffering a heart attack or stroke,” KershawHealth EMS Assistant Director Wayne Priester said Monday in a KershawHealth press release. “The goal of EMS is to prevent any further injury and manage life-threatening conditions until we can get the patient to the hospital and into a physician’s care. The ambulances we use are an integral part of that, especially when you realize that EMS covers more than 700 square miles in Kershaw County.”

Extending the hospital’s emergency department countywide is a tall order, but the KershawHealth emergency medical technicians (who are trained in basic life support, CPR, and immobilization skills), and paramedics (who have advanced training in cardiac care/ defibrillation, and who are able to administer medications) are well up to the task. So are their vehicles, Priester said. He said those taking a look inside one of the ambulances, will find “every square inch” dedicated to an extensive array of equipment and supplies to support their efforts.

According to the National Association of EMS Physicians, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the American College of Surgeons, all EMS providers must have all the appropriate equipment and supplies to optimize the delivery of care prior to arriving at a hospital, Priester said. Initially, care is implemented through the use of well-established standard protocols. But EMS providers also must be able to communicate with emergency room physicians throughout transport for direct medical oversight, he said.

Priester said every KershawHealth ambulance is required to include basic life support items -- from oxygen and an automated external defibrillator (AED), to immobilization devices like cervical collars, splints, and backboards. Then there are the bandages and dressings, stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs, linens, gloves, gowns, and even OB kits for delivering babies. Not to mention the familiar stretcher. In all, the standard list of supplies and equipment required runs to nearly 150 items. Priester said each ambulance also carries a complete stock of emergency drugs to address everything from postpartum hemorrhaging to severe allergic reactions and cardiac arrest. All of this must be securely stored, regularly inventoried, and readily accessible for immediate use.

“Some of our most important equipment is for cardiac care -- cardiac monitors, defibrillators, and so forth. And all of that equipment is intensive care unit quality -- it is the same equipment you’ll find at the medical center,” Priester said.

KershawHealth EMS is part of the LifeNet network, which allows it to send EKG results directly from the ambulance to any hospital in the area, a critical advantage when transporting heart attack patients.

“In the case of a heart attack, we can transmit the same 12-lead EKG that you’d have in the emergency room,” Priester said. “That way, the ER doctor knows exactly what is going on, and if we’re transporting a patient to an interventional cath lab at one of the heart hospitals, the doctor there knows what needs to be done before the patient even arrives. That’s a great benefit to patients.”

In addition, all KershawHealth ambulances have complete interoperability with regional police, fire, and sheriff’s departments, as well as with LifeNet emergency transport helicopters. This interoperability is critical when even simple events may require a response from several agencies, Priester said.

The two new ambulances join a fleet of five active and three backup units operated by KershawHealth EMS, where they will replace two of the oldest models. They will be busy, as EMS answers a total of 9,000 to 10,000 calls each year throughout Kershaw County.

Although most ambulances are based on standard layouts and chassis designs, each is customized for the unique needs of the individual EMS service. In addition, these vehicles must be robust, as they travel thousands of miles each year along city streets, rural roads, and interstate highways. Given that, the price tag for ambulances is understandably steep. When Kershaw County Council replaced aging vehicles with two new McCoy Miller ambulances from Southeastern Specialty Vehicles for KershawHealth EMS earlier this year, the cost for the pair was $318,000.

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