Clayton hospital hosts regional paramedic training

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Joel Hall


Paramedics from Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties, and the Atlanta Fire Department Airport Division, gathered at Southern Regional Medical Center on Friday for the hospital's first-ever Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Educational Workshop.

The regional effort educated paramedics on recent advancements in the treatment of strokes and heart attacks, and how emergency workers can better coordinate their efforts with the hospital.

Donna Waggoner, managing director of heart and vascular services for Southern Regional, led the workshop along with a team of doctors and experts specializing in stroke and vascular disease. Within the last year, the hospital has become both a certified stroke-treatment center and an accredited chest-pain center offering angioplasty, Waggoner said, adding that keeping paramedics up to date on the services offered by the hospital is crucial to patient care.

"We have gone out to the different units and given presentations ... but this is the first time we have brought it to the hospital and had a full program," Waggoner said. "Since we have become a certified stroke center and accredited chest-pain center with PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention), you want to strengthen [paramedics'] knowledge so that they can facilitate recognizing the problem quickly and bring that person to a certified stroke center. Right now, we are the only one in the Southern Crescent."

During the workshop, doctors led paramedics in presentations on vascular anatomy; uncommon warning signs of stroke and heart attack; proper medicines to administer, given a patient's age and symptoms; and new ways to diagnose patients who may have suffered a heart attack or stroke.

"Everybody thinks of a heart attack as the elephant on your chest, but sometimes it can manifest in the form of a bad flu and back pain," Waggoner said. "Sometimes it is just jaw pain. Women often have atypical symptoms. It [the workshop] strengthens their [paramedics'] clinical knowledge and ability to diagnose those people and bring them to the right place."

Donnie Davis, a paramedic with the Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services for 18 years, said that Fayette County hosted a similar regional training effort last year. He said that with the increased number of stroke and heart attack patients coming to Southern Regional, the hospital's workshop makes sure that everyone has "the same game plan."

"The medical field is always like computer updates," Davis said. "There is always going to be something new out there. Most of the patients, we were taking them to Piedmont [Hospital] or Atlanta Medical [Center]," prior to Southern Regional's accreditation. With the workshop, "we know what to expect and what they want," he said.

"It's important that the paramedic be able to assess the situation, especially with heart attack and stroke," said Justin Thomas, a Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services emergency medical technician (EMT). "There is very little of a time window. If we can make a diagnosis, at least the doctor has somewhere to start. A program like this helps the EMTs and the hospital coordinate their efforts as much as possible."

During the workshop, Dr. Ernesto Fernandez, a neurologist and medical director of Southern Regional's stroke program, shared a letter he recently received from a Las Vegas woman who was en route to Paris, France, when she began experiencing stroke-like symptoms during a layover at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Due to the work of paramedics, the woman's symptoms were identified and she was transported to Southern Regional in 15 minutes.

"We could not do our job without the help of EMS services," Fernandez said. "We cannot start doing anything until the patient is here. These guys need to know a little anatomy, know the symptoms ... and then head to the closest certified stroke center, because every minute counts."


On the net:

Southern Regional Medical Center: www.southernregional.org