NEMSMA Executive of the Year: Tim Hearn, Ft. Smith EMS, Ft. Smith, AR

The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) and EMS World, in conjunction with the National EMS Management Association (NEMSMA) and the National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE), established the National EMS Awards of Excellence program to recognize outstanding achievement in the EMS profession.

The 2012 awards will be presented on Tuesday, October 30, at the NAEMT Annual Meeting in New Orleans, held in conjunction with EMS World Expo 2012, and at the EMS World Expo Opening Keynote on October 31.

We would like to thank the following sponsors of this year’s awards: NAEMT Paramedic of the Year Award sponsored by Nasco; NAEMT EMT of the Year Award sponsored by Braun Industries; Dick Ferneau Paid EMS Service of the Year sponsored by Ferno; Impact Volunteer EMS Service of the Year sponsored by Impact Instrumentation, Inc.; and NEMSMA Executive of the Year sponsored by EMS World.

Award recipients receive a $1,000 award stipend, a three-day core program registration to EMS World Expo, plus $1,000 for travel and lodging to attend EMS World Expo and the NAEMT Annual Meeting.

The nomination period for next year’s awards will open in February 2013. Visit EMSWorld.com/awards.

When Tim Hearn became executive director of Ft. Smith EMS, the service was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was understaffed, had obsolete equipment, owned no real property and, despite serving the second-largest city in Arkansas, was valued at less than $500,000.

Four years later, the turnaround Hearn’s overseen has earned him honors as the National EMS Management Association’s 2012 EMS Executive of the Year.

“Our citizens deserve to have the very best, and we won’t settle until we have it for them,” says Hearn, who was an ER paramedic and educator at a local hospital before assuming control of the EMS service in 2008. “That’s what we’ve pushed for four years, and I think that’s where we are now.”

Getting there began with a plan so ambitious it initially prompted laughter from the city board. Hearn sought an accelerated replacement schedule for trucks and to replace every piece of the service’s outdated equipment. He wanted to bolster staffing, upgrade education, improve technology, and build a new corporate headquarters and comms center.

And he wanted some good leaders around him. For nearly three decades, Ft. Smith’s executive director had been its only “suit.” As his first order of business, Hearn hired a business manager to work on improving collections and cash flow. An operations manager followed, then a 9-1-1 center manager who doubled as a grants administrator.

“I knew I had to assemble a good management team first so we could start working on changing things,” Hearn says. “We had good personnel; we just didn’t have everything else we needed. For the size of our town, we were behind. We had to strive for excellence.”

The payoff came quickly in the form of better collections, trained account representatives and successful grant applications. In one fiscal year, Ft. Smith EMS went from losing $180,000 to turning a profit.

Equipment posed the next challenge. While Ft. Smith met all its requirements for state licensure and operation, much of its inventory was old, dated and needed upgrading. Over the next few years, Ft. Smith undertook to replace every single piece. They also put EMS units on a two-year replacement cycle.

With newer tools came newer technologies: state-of-the-art cardiac monitors and 12-lead transmissions, ePCRs, vehicle data recorders, automatic vehicle location, computer-aided dispatch, Toughbooks, even two different models of video laryngoscope. This year Ft. Smith becomes the first service in Arkansas with Stryker’s Power-LOAD to automate cot lifting and lowering.

“That’ll save backs,” says Hearn. “Every time I talk to a vendor, I tell them, if it’s out there and it’s better for our citizens and paramedics, whether it’s a treatment or a safety measure, I want it. I want our paramedics to have the best equipment to work with they can.”

The service has worked closely with local hospitals on stroke and STEMI care, slashing times to intervention. It’s cut response times and improved 9-1-1 call processing. Educational offerings for providers have been expanded, and work is ongoing to bring an accredited paramedic program to Ft. Smith. With the help of grants, it’s procured resources like a trauma trailer that will serve five counties.

Across the community, Ft. Smith EMS has sought relationships with local nonprofits and health advocates and promoted activities like biking and after-school physical fitness. It distributes food to locals in need. It buys up unsold PTA memberships. That civic spirit reflects in its employees, who have responded to the renaissance with record volunteering of their time and efforts.

“What we invest in our employees, they more than pay back,” Hearn says. “Volunteerism is at an all-time high. Our bike team’s an example of that. It’s completely volunteer-based, and that trailer’s gone every weekend working events. Four years ago you wouldn’t have seen that. I believe it’s because our employees believe in our company now. They feel part of it, they feel ownership, and they know the company’s doing everything it can to take care of them.”

In January 2011 Ft. Smith EMS broke ground on a new 12,500-square-foot home to replace the 2,000-square-foot retired fire station into which it’d previously been crammed. The new digs, occupied that June, include offices, crew quarters, training facilities, records housing, a supply warehouse, and indoor parking for EMS vehicles. By this summer the building was paid off.

There’s no magic formula for rebirth, but for leaders of similar struggling services seeking turnarounds, Hearn has some tips.

“No. 1, and some people chuckle at me, is you need to pray,” he says. “You need to listen to your people, their wants and needs and what they see in the community. As the director, I make sure I’m surrounded by people who can do the job, both in the field and in management. And if you want to be blessed, get involved in community efforts. Get plugged back into your community, and your community plugs into you, and will support you in everything you do.”

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