Thursday, September 20, 2012

New ambulances offer enhanced safety

We all know ambulances, and the crews that staff them, save countless lives each year. Yet while designed with the care and safety of patients in mind, older model ambulances were not designed to protect the crew while they care for these patients. Crew members work unrestrained in the patient compartment, and quick stops, sharp corners and other maneuvers a driver must make to avoid an accident can have serious consequences. In the case of an actual crash, the results can be even more serious. 

“Statistics show the American ambulance is one of the most dangerous vehicles on the road for its passengers,” says Mark Alexander, director of CoxHealth Pre-Hospital Services.

Thankfully, this situation is changing as newer, safer ambulances are becoming more common, and CoxHealth is proud to bring the first of these ambulances to the area. The organization has purchased two 2011 Mercedes Mirage EX Sprinter ambulances as part of its fleet, and plans to systematically replace the entire fleet as existing ambulances reach the end of their life expectancy.

Ambulances built on the Sprinter platform have been in use around the world for years, and are the ambulance of choice in Europe, Australia and other countries. But their use in the United States has been fairly limited.

“In the EMS industry, we have tended to take the approach that we’re there to protect our patients – which we are – and that the risks we take in moving around inside the vehicle are part of the job. But now we’re saying, ‘Why take that risk if you don’t have to?’” says Mike Dawson, Pre-Hospital Services operations manager.

Sprinter ambulances are narrower, which allows for a forward-facing seat with a four-point safety harness for the paramedic or EMT providing care in the back. This configuration allows the staff member to reach supplies and care for the patient while being safely restrained.

“I can’t say that we’ll be safely restrained the entire time we’re providing patient care, but we can be most of the time,” says Dawson. “That is a significant improvement over the situation in American-style ambulances.”

The new ambulances were customized by Demers Ambulance, located near Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Dawson and Webster County EMS manager Fred Savage flew to Montreal in June and spent two days driving the ambulances back to Springfield. According to Dawson, Demers was selected because of the high level of safety features they build into the vehicles they produce.

“Demers builds ambulances that are used in 25 different countries, and they made the decision that they would build to the most rigid safety standards available. This, and the innovation they brought to the table, is why we selected this company,” says Dawson.
The new ambulances also feature back-up cameras with microphones, a microphone in the patient compartment so the driver is aware of what is happening with the patient and his or her crew member, replicated warning lights so vehicles approaching a scene from behind can see the lights when the vehicle doors are open, and more.

“We don’t let paramedics and EMTs go into a scene that’s not safe, that hasn’t first been secured. And then we put them in the back of an ambulance where they’re not secure and can be easily harmed during an accident,” says Alexander. “These ambulances change that.”

Another leading reason for making the switch to the Mercedes Sprinter platform? Cost – both in purchase price and savings related to operations. Each new, fully outfitted Sprinter costs $91,999. That’s $50,000 - $60,000 less than a similarly equipped new Ford or GM ambulance like those the organization has purchased in the past. Plus, Sprinters are more fuel efficient – each is expected to save CoxHealth approximately $7,000 a year in fuel costs.

The Mercedes platform also offers some unexpected benefits. “One thing we’ve found that we weren’t necessarily expecting is that these vehicles offer a much smoother ride,” says Dawson. That’s a benefit to the patient and to staff providing care. Other Demers innovations offer more patient benefits – the heater in back vents below the patient cot instead of from the ceiling, helping keep the patient more comfortable. And the attendant seat in the back even includes an integrated child safety seat for times when a child may need to ride with an adult patient.

“They’ve thought of almost everything,” Dawson says. 
Operations manager Mike Dawson points out features of the new Sprinter ambulances to Springfield News-Leader reporter Jonathan Shorman during a media event.

Including the Sprinters, CoxHealth has an ambulance fleet of 27 vehicles. Additionally, the organization maintains and manages another 24 ambulances in the region that are registered to individual ambulance district boards.

These new ambulances will be based in Greene County and are expected to have a life span of 6 – 8 years and roughly 300,000 miles.

“CoxHealth has been an innovator and leader in pre-hospital patient care since we began providing full-service ambulance care in 1987,” says Dawson. “By adding the Sprinters to our fleet, we are continuing that tradition.”
The ambulances were customized by Demers Ambulance in Montreal, Quebec, and then brought to Springfield for custom graphics, applied by Dick Harper at Stripes, Ltd.

Pre-Hospital celebrates quarter century on the cutting edge 

This year marks CoxHealth’s 25th anniversary of providing full-service ambulance care to area residents, and through the years CoxHealth has been a leader in pre-hospital care.

In 1972, CoxHealth became one of the first hospitals in the nation to operate a mobile coronary care unit. This unit carried specially trained staff who traveled to pick up patients suspected of having a heart attack. The diagnosis and treatment of the patient began on the way to the hospital.

In 1987, CoxHealth first stepped into full-service ambulance care with the purchase of the Stone County ambulance service.

Later that same year, Cox purchased ambulance services in Ava, Republic and Springfield.

In 1988 and 1989, ambulance service was expanded to Christian, Dade, Barry and Webster counties. Before this time, most ambulance services were operated by funeral homes and county governments. There were no training requirements or standards and the value of trained paramedics and EMTs had not yet been realized.

In 1989, Cox launched a regional dispatch center that answered 911 calls for a seven-county area.

In 1997, a computer-aided dispatch center was brought on-line, providing GPS and tracking strategic placement of ambulances so we could provide the fastest response times possible.