Psychological training offered to rural first responders and EMTs
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Jun. 17, 2013
United Services, Inc. will offer a psychological first aid training program to emergency medical technicians and other first responders on June 24 at KB Ambulance in Danielson. The training program is a response to increased numbers of mental health-related calls in northeastern Connecticut. That increase is tied to a general increase in such calls throughout rural Connecticut, according to Mary Winar, projects coordinator of the Connecticut Office of Rural Health. “We believe the numbers are going up statewide,” she said.
KB Ambulance administrator Randy Daggett can point to a 15-percent rise in the calls his EMTs have responded to in the last few years. Of the 1,200 calls they have received in 2013, more than 180 have been mental health-related. “It really is a prevalent issue in northeast Connecticut,” Daggett said. He dates the rise back to 2008 and the economic crash. “That really fueled the fire,” he said.
The training program is open to all first responders. There is also a mental health first aid certified program, which the CORH has offered in the past, but this is an additional program. The curriculum has been developed by United Services, Inc. staff. “You have to ask some blunt questions to see what state a patient is in,” Daggett said. “‘Do you have anything sharp on you?’ ‘Have you taken any drugs today?’ The program will enable our people to recognize and be educated in any signs that a call could turn into hostile environment.”
The program aims to help EMTs, as well. “It's traumatic for first responders to be seeing cases like this over and over again,” Winar said. “It's important that EMTs get support for dealing with these cases.”
Ashley Zakrzewski works as an EMT for Putnam EMS and Woodstock. She also supervises EMTs in Thompson. “You never know how any patient is going to react,” she said, “but mental health issues compound the situation. A patient's behavior can change quickly. What's key is keeping yourself, your crew and your patient safe.”
Amber Axtell agreed. The lieutenant with Thompson Emergency Services said mental health-related calls can be very different from strictly medical calls. A person with a history of mental health issues can present with a medical issue, or he or she might have a medical issue arising from a mental health issue. “Patients can present in different ways,” Axtell said. “We have to learn how to treat and interact with them. It's for our safety and theirs.”
Axtell also works for several area emergency medical services. She suspects the percentage of mental health-related calls is higher than 15 percent. “Mental health and behavioral health calls are a substantial part of our calls,” she said. Police are automatically dispatched to mental health calls unless a patient is cooperative, but EMTs can arrive on the scene before an officer. “Safety is our primary concern,” Axtell said.
Winar said they are treating this like a pilot program. “We'll see how it works,” she said. “If there's a good response and they felt it was beneficial, then we'll see if we can offer it again. The Connecticut Office of Rural Health supports the brave responders that serve our rural communities,” she said. “The Office is pleased to partner with KB Ambulance and United Services, Inc. to offer this greatly needed EMS education advancement that will enhance the quality of emergency care for residents in rural Connecticut.”
Local first responders are asked to register by contacting John Goodman at United Services at 860-774-2020 or via e-mail at email@example.com. Participants are asked to provide examples of response scenarios prior to the training, so United Services staff can provide them with helpful strategies to de-escalate situations to provide expedited transport.