Local emergency responders receive FEMA funds

By Curt Yeomans


Emergency medical responders from seven local agencies, and private companies, are set to have their cardiac monitoring systems upgraded, due in part, to a federal grant that the Clayton County Board of Commissioners accepted earlier this week.

The $162,772 grant, which comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will help pay for improvements in the way information about cardiac patients is relayed to Southern Regional Medical Center, in Riverdale, hospital officials said.

The Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Department partnered with the hospital to get the grant, officials added.

Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas will oversee distribution of equipment and software, to the participating agencies, hospital officials told the Clayton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. Cohilas is also the county government's chief of staff.

Cynthia Jenkins, the director of the Southern Regional Medical Center Foundation, said the equipment and software will be distributed to emergency medical service agencies for Clayton, Henry, and Fayette counties, the cities of Forest Park, Morrow and Peachtree City, and Rural Metro, a private company that provides emergency services at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

All of those agencies bring cardiac patients to Southern Regional, she said.

"This brings everybody on one level, so every emergency medical services provider can communicate effectively with Southern Regional Medical Center," Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the county, and the hospital applied for the grant in May 2009. She said, under FEMA rules, the hospital could not apply for the grant on its own, and needed a local emergency services agency, to act as the host agency for the grant. Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services will act as that host, and, therefore, be the recipient of the grant money, she said.

Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services spokesman, Battalion Chief Landry Merkison, said the agency signed on to host the grant because "we're the main providers of patients to Southern Regional." He added that people who need medical services for heart problems should benefit from having all of the agencies that bring patients to the hospital involved in the communications upgrade. "This will greatly enhance our patients' chances of survival," he said.

The hospital is using the money to help pay for the purchase of several components for a system that will allow emergency responders to send information on cardiac patients to Southern Regional, from the ambulance, according to Jay Connelly, the director of the hospital's emergency services department.

"The grant that was accepted by the Board of Commissioners helps supplement a regional emergency medical services system, to help expedite care to persons experiencing heart attacks," Connelly said. "It allows us to equip ambulances in the area so they can wirelessly send EKG [electrocardiogram] information to the hospital, so we can anticipate the needs of the patient, sometimes, 20 minutes before they arrive. It reduces the amount of time that the heart is damaged."

On Thursday, Donna Waggoner, the director of cardiac services and clinical lab services at the hospital, said it will cost a total of $300,000 to get the system fully set up. The grant only covers just over half of that amount, she pointed out. She said the remainder of the money came from a private donation from the long-term acute care hospital, which she said is housed within Southern Regional.

She said the money will be distributed as follows: Seven Life Pack 15 kits, that serve as heart monitors and defibrillators, for emergency services departments in Forest Park and Morrow (approximately $192,000); wireless software that will allow personnel from Clayton, Fayette, and Henry counties, Peachtree City, and Rural Metro emergency response groups, to transmit heart information to the hospital (approximately $50,000); an information receiving station for the hospital (nearly $40,000), and batteries and chargers for the Life Pack 15 kits (approximately $10,000).

The remainder of the money will be spent to train 250 emergency medical services personnel how to use the equipment, she said.

"I am just really excited that these different agencies have come together, to provide services to these counties at a high level of care," Waggoner said.

Connelly said hospital officials hope to have the wireless equipment, needed to implement this system, set up and ready to use by the beginning of next year.