The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) and EMS World Magazine, in conjunction with Advocates for EMS (AEMS), the National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE), and the National EMS Management Association (NEMSMA), established the National EMS Awards of Excellence program to recognize outstanding achievement in the EMS profession.
NEMSMA Executive of the Year: Ernesto "Ernie" Rodriguez
When Ernie Rodriguez took over as director of Austin-Travis County (Texas) Emergency Medical Services in June 2008, the organization was facing numerous challenges. Responders were not meeting response time goals, little continuing education was being offered, employee turnover had reached 10% annually, and injury rates were too high.
Rodriguez and his team decided they needed to make some changes. Among the initiatives: changing shift structure to improve morale and reduce fatigue, altering the way vehicles and equipment were utilized to achieve greater efficiency, and investing in a revamped training program. The results quickly became evident: Responders began to consistently meet response time goals, turnover dropped to less than 2% a year, and the rate of on-the-job injuries fell.
With so much discussion about the need for EMS leaders to consider business principles such as return on investment to justify expenditures, it might surprise you to hear Rodriguez's thought process. "A lot of the time, I start with the heart first and work my way toward the business level," he says. "There are things we need to do because it's the right thing to do.
"I remember talking to a guy once and he said, 'You are too nice to your employees.' I fall in love with them. He was pointing out my weaknesses, but I think those are my strengths."
That caring attitude is one reason Rodriguez's employees nominated him for the EMS Executive of the Year Award--which he went on to win. He will be presented the award by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, in conjunction with the National EMS Management Association and EMS World Magazine, at the EMS Expo, Sept. 27-Oct. 1 in Dallas.
"It caught me completely off guard," Rodriguez says of the award. "I thought it was pretty cool that some of my peers would recognize me in that way. What's even greater is that the nomination was put together by people who work with me. You often wonder, what do these people really think about me? ... They gave me a lot of credit, but this is a team effort."
Throughout his career, Rodriguez has worked in volunteer and career fire departments and for private, fire-based and, currently, third service EMS. "I've tried just about every flavor of EMS," he says. "It's what defines EMS, which is that it's a little bit of everything. It's been helpful to me to have had the opportunity to see it from various vantage points."
Rodriguez got his start in 1980 as a volunteer firefighter/EMT in Kingsville, Texas. He left there to work as a firefighter/paramedic in Corpus Christi, where he was later promoted to assistant EMS director. In 1991, he went to work for the state of Texas as assistant state EMS director, where he worked on disaster preparedness, among other programs, before being hired by MedStar in Fort Worth. He left there to become deputy director of EMS with Austin-Travis County EMS, which provides EMS coverage to nearly 1 million residents in and around Austin, covering a region of more than 1,100 square miles.
In regard to the qualities that make for a strong leader and a good executive, Rodriguez says: "Your employees above all need to know there is someone watching out for them. That is a primary focus of any executive in any organization. We lose sight of that when we get overly focused on the dollars. When we think mostly of ROI, we begin to lose sight of what we know best, which is people. It's very difficult to take an organization and transform it into one that's willing to value the impact on people equally with the dollars and the measures."