New research finds an unsettling suicide risk among EMS providers: More than 31% of respondents to a recent survey had results that indicated a risk of future suicidal behavior, and more than 27% reported suicidal ideation within the past year—a rate seven times higher than the general population.1
With such alarming data, any and all efforts to protect providers and chip away at the precursors to suicidality—things like fatigue, stress, and burnout—seem warranted. Now three top EMS organizations are teaming up to provide training and resources to help.
The International Association of Flight and Critical Care Paramedics (IAFCCP) and Air and Surface Transport Nurses Association (ASTNA) have joined with the MedEvac Foundation International to help deliver the information under the banner "Taking Care of Our Own." It's a ground critical care transport- and prehospital care-focused safety program that will highlight ground operations, safety, fatigue, PTSD, stress management, and healthy lifestyle choices. It will be delivered through a series of one-day training events over the summer in cities across the U.S.
“We’re excited about this partnership and think it’s an important step,” says Howard Ragsdale, chair of the MedEvac Foundation’s Board of Trustees and senior vice president of strategic alliances for Texas-based Apollo MedFlight. “All the leadership has really stepped up to make it happen. I think these kinds of partnerships can help us make sure the message we’re getting out is pertinent and beneficial to the EMS population beyond just the air folks, to ground and other first responders as well.”
The Taking Care of Our Own events will provide CME credit for EMS providers and nurses, and the organizers hope to draw 100–200 attendees per location. Sites confirmed thus far include Columbus, Ohio, and Sacramento, Calif., in June; Portland, Ore., and Fort Worth, Tex., in August; St. Louis, Mo., in September; and Charlotte in October. Other cities are expected to be added, including events in Kentucky and Wisconsin.
The Taking Care of Our Own content was largely developed by IAFCCP Vice President Phil Ward, FP-C, and ASTNA President Sharon Purdom, RN, CFRN, CEN. It draws from the award-winning “Life-Saving Thinking” initiative developed by PHI Air Medical in 2016 and embraced across the medical-transport community. Life-Saving Thinking, as described by the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS), “provides a memorable, innovative, and unique lens from which the employee can really understand how to utilize their brains, recognize mind traps that exist, and make decisions and complete tasks with their full and complete attention.”2
PHI developed the program in collaboration with psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, and other experts in brain function as a complement to its previous “Life-Saving Behaviors” program. Life-Saving Behaviors spelled out actions employees can take to improve safety and performance; Life-Saving Thinking digs more deeply into how the brain works and how to develop a more and vigilant and focused mind-set. It won a Vision Zero Aviation Safety Award in 2016.
“It’s a pretty broad program and has the lifesaving behaviors embedded within it,” says Ward. “It covers 10 behaviors PHI studied and found linked to things that have caused accidents, injuries, and deaths in the HEMS world. Some of those are resiliency-type issues, fitness for duty, being rested for work, asking for help, taking care of ourselves, and then some behaviors we perform in air medical.” It’ll be modified for ground services as well.
To that Taking Care of Our Own will add content on emotional resilience and critical stress/PTSD, with Ward looking at a debriefing that went wrong and how the damage was eventually fixed. Content will emphasize that it’s OK to ask for help, and the EMS culture should support those who seek it.
“A lot of the times people are afraid to come out—they don’t want to say something for fear of being labeled,” adds Ward. “We’re going to share a successful model and tell people it’s OK to come out and say, ‘I need help.’”
The training events will also serve as fundraisers to assist the families of providers killed or critically injured in transport accidents. That help could come in the form of scholarships or grants through ASTNA and IAFCCP. “We should have an opportunity for a pretty significant amount of dollars to go into supporting some other things,” says Ragsdale.
If the Taking Care of Our Own events are successful, they’ll yield fodder for further research and education via projects beyond 2019. And while the organizations behind it are from the air-medical realm, their efforts are aimed at all who deliver EMS.
“The reality of it is that our charter goes beyond air medical into critical care transport, and we have an interest in the safety of everyone involved: firefighters, law enforcement, and first responders of all types,” says Ragsdale. “It’s an opportunity for us to raise awareness and really demonstrate to the community what the foundation and these associations stand for.”