The Institute for Emergency Care at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City was the longest continuously operating paramedic program in New York, and the third longest running in the nation, behind only those of the Los Angeles County and Chicago fire departments. Since its inception in 1981, the Institute trained more than 700 paramedics and 5,000 EMTs.
When St. Vincent's announced late last year that it was facing financial insolvency and looking at ways to keep the hospital afloat, the worry began. This worry blossomed into full-blown panic when, this past week, the hospital--which opened in 1849 and treated survivors of the Titanic in 1912 and World Trade Center attack of 2001--announced it would be closing its doors effective immediately. The impact of this closure will run deep on neighborhood residents, as St. Vincent's is the only healthcare facility below 59th Street on the west side of Manhattan. It will run just as deep for the paramedic class currently being trained at St. Vincent's, which received word about the closure in the middle of the didactic part of its program. According to John Bray, BS, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P, St. Vincent's paramedic education coordinator, all the students still have both didactic and practical elements left to do if they are to graduate in August as paramedics.
But in the face of this challenge, the resulting actions of the New York City EMS educational community have been nothing short of astounding. Pending approval from the state Department of Health, these actions will include the Borough of Manhattan Community College agreeing to oversee the program and run it under its course sponsorship; New York Downtown Hospital offering classroom space and clinical rotation oversight on its ALS trucks, ED, ICU, and pediatrics and L&D units; and various other programs--specifically, LaGuardia Community College, St. John's University and Rockland Community College--agreeing to allow St. Vincent's students to attend their respective state and National Registry practical examinations in August.
Another silver lining in this dark cloud is the actions of Bray, a veteran of more than 20 years in New York City EMS. Although the hospital officially let him go as of April 15th, Bray kept working to assure all the actions taken by the various involved hospitals and course sponsors got handled in an efficient, expeditious manner consistent with the highest educational standards. Additionally, he will continue on, gratis, as the medic students' instructor coordinator.
"I feel it is our mission to assure that the legacy of the Institute is not one of failure," says Bray, its director since 2004, "but instead a great example of what we are able to accomplish when we put differences aside and work together for the sake of others."
Bray also served as St. Vincent's AHA training center coordinator and disaster team training coordinator. He has presented at national programs and seminars and written articles for industry magazines and textbooks. He and his wife, Gwen, both volunteer at Spring Hill Community Ambulance Corps. In a situation where there was real potential for a bad outcome for nearly 30 paramedic students, Bray displayed the best EMS has to offer.
Raphael M. Barishansky, MPH, is program chief for public health emergency preparedness with the Prince George's County (MD) Health Department and a member of EMS Magazine's editorial advisory board.