Prehospital Profiles: Volunteers at Sun City Center Emergency Squad Don't Let Age Slow Them Down

 

As a retirement community in west central Florida, the minimum age of Sun City Center residents is 55 years. Located a short drive from Tampa Bay, the residents enjoy an active post-work lifestyle where the warm climate and ample sunshine allow year round outdoor activities.

However, even in near-paradise, residents and visitors will need emergency medical assistance. When that happens, it's the 55-plus age group that also provides the bulk of the care. In fact, the average age of EMS volunteers at Sun City Center Emergency Squad is 72, notes Chief Michael Jackson.

But those who volunteer at the agency don't let a few decades of life experience deter them from providing the best possible care. In fact, Chief Jackson indicates that it's the citizens with the additional years of maturity who are some of his most active volunteers.

EMS World recently spoke with Chief Jackson about the challenges and rewards of working with a more aged volunteer staff.

Because your community has a minimum age requirement of 55, does that make it more difficult to recruit volunteers?

Yes, it is difficult to find volunteers. But it's typically the "younger" people who are more resistant. Since Sun City Center is a 55-and-older community, many new residents who have recently retired and moved here aren't too interested in volunteering. It takes about 10 years--when they're in their mid-60s--before they get bored and begin to seek out more things to do.

We do have two students who are finishing their junior year of college. They live outside of our community and are studying to be nurses so our agency is a good fit for them.

We've also been able to attract volunteers from as far away as Venice, which is about 60 miles south of us, as well as from Tampa Bay, Bradenton, St. Pete and other areas around us. Many of our volunteers seem to enjoy the neighbors-helping-neighbors atmosphere here, and with an average 16 calls a day, our all-volunteer squad is busier than some paid emergency services departments. Our older volunteers already have training and they don't want to lose their skills, but they also don't want to work at an agency with a more rigid environment. With us, they can volunteer on a part-time basis, and it's basically fun for them. We also have volunteers who come in and cook lunch for us every day. The meals are great, and they're another reason why some volunteers like our department.

We also have the added advantage of serving people who are very thankful we're here. We work hand-in-hand with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, which charges for its services. Sometimes we will transport for them, which saves our residents a lot of money since we don't charge. Oftentimes, people we've transported will come back and drop off a donation as a way to say thanks. That's the kind of appreciation our community gives us.

Is there any special technology or equipment you use to better accommodate senior volunteers?

We're awaiting the availability of Stryker's Power Load System so our volunteers can load and unload cots with the touch of a finger. I've also redesigned our new ambulances to improve safety for everyone, regardless of age. So far this year we've purchased two new vehicles, with a third one coming. We hadn't purchased any new ambulances for the past five years so repairs were catching up with us.

I redesigned the interior so it's safer for our first responders and EMTs who ride in the back. The EMT seat used to be a bench seat, but I changed it to a sliding seat. With the previous design, the EMT would have to unbuckle in order to reach the patient. With the sliding seat, he or she can slide the seat from against the wall and move closer to the patient while still being strapped in with a five-point safety harness.

It's also easier for first responders to access supplies. The cabinet used to be at the head of the ambulance, but now we carry equipment on the curb side of the vehicle and made it easier to access with a door that rolls up rather than opening out. The first responder seat has been changed to a swivel seat so when we're driving down the road and someone needs something out of the cabinet, he or she can easily reach into it and never have to unbuckle the safety harness.

I also switched to brighter LED warning lights on the front, back and sides of the vehicle. They're small and they don't take much power, but they're very bright. The previous florescent lights needed frequent bulb changes. LED lights last longer, which also cuts down on maintenance costs.

Has it been more difficult for older volunteers to transition to new equipment and adopt new technology?

About three years ago we used some grant money to make the transition to an electronic patient care reporting system with the Florida Prehospital EMS Tracking and Reporting System (EMSTARS) program and Panasonic Toughbooks. Our first group of volunteers went live in April and by September of that same year everyone was using the new system. When you consider the average age of our volunteers is 72, this is a phenomenal feat that testifies to the willingness of our older volunteers to embrace change.

Electronic patient reporting improved patient care as well as our accuracy, which has been running at 98%. It provides for more complete reports since you can't close a file until all the fields are filled in. With paper reports, it's easier for someone to overlook something. Electronic reporting also removes any interpretation that may come when trying to decipher someone's handwriting. Early on in the transition we ran a comparison between electronic and paper reports. Everyone saw pretty quickly how much better and more efficient the electronic system is. Now no one even remembers what a paper report looked like.

Department Profile: Sun City Center Emergency Squad

Type of department: Licensed BLS ambulance service with wheelchair van service that provides transport to medical appointments such as dialysis, doctor visits, physical therapy, etc.; 100% volunteer staff

Number of employees: About 450 volunteers (about 250 provide emergency medical service trained through the EMT-basic level); every ambulance is staffed with an EMT, a first responder and a first responder driver

Service area: 12.8 square miles; about 20,000 residents, including the gated community of Kings Point

Call volume (2010): More than 6,800 ambulance calls; more than 2,000 van runs

Number of vehicles: Four ambulances, two wheelchair vans, two squad cars; one ambulance runs 24 hours a day/7 days a week/365 days a year; depending on team staffing, a second ambulance can run from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and a third one from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; van services run from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week

Annual operating budget and major sources of operating revenue: About $600,000; major sources of revenues come from donations, fundraising events and bequeaths; as a non-profit 501(c)(3) the agency receives no federal, state or local money; no patient billing

Special projects or programs you conduct or participate in: Training for CPR, first responders, ambulance drivers, etc. is done in-house by certified instructors (EMT training is done at Hillsborough Community College); residents can come to the squad building seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.to get their blood pressure checked free of charge (last year volunteers conducted more than 3,300 blood pressure checks)

How do you reduce costs or maximize limited funding: Coordination with other area EMS agencies to buy medical supplies in bulk helps keep costs down, as does shopping around for medical supplies to find better discounts without sacrificing quality

Plans for the future: Continuing to evaluate the latest equipment and products available that improve patient care and better accommodate senior volunteers (such as the addition of an automatic cot loading system from Stryker EMS); prepare for P-25 compliance

Editor's Note: If you would like EMSWorld.com to profile your agency, e-mail Kim Berndtson.

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