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Critical-care designation sets AirCare paramedics apart

Published on Wednesday, November 5, 2014

By: Ruth Cummins

A new level of care is being offered by six helicopter paramedics who fly with the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s AirCare.

They join the select ranks of the state’s new critical-care paramedics, gaining certification after completing an intensive, hands-on pilot program on the Ridgeland campus of Holmes Community College, in collaboration with clinical areas at UMMC.

The new certification means they can perform potentially life-saving procedures that nurses or paramedics without the certification cannot, said Donna Norris, AirCare’s program manager.

Adding critical-care to their paramedic status are Jeremy Benson, Stacy Gill, Sam Marshall and Don Moore; and Kevin King, James Walters and Stephen Houck, who also are registered nurses. AirCare is Mississippi’s only medical flight team that operates statewide, and the only program that transports adults, children and infants. It’s also the only program utilizing isolettes for premature and ill infants and the sole program that carries blood products and an ultrasound.

Paramedics and nurses fly with AirCare to trauma scenes, but also treat patients being transported by AirCare from smaller hospitals to UMMC for expert care offered by the state’s only Level 1 trauma center.

Critical-care paramedics can give medications that a regular paramedic can’t administer. “They can perform advanced procedures that nurses aren’t allowed to do, such as placing a chest tube in someone whose lung has collapsed in order to help reinflate the lung,” Norris said.

 “It also validates their professional knowledge base,” she said. “They’ve always thought (like) critical-care paramedics, but now they can complete those procedures.”

The state legislature in 2013 allowed the licensing of critical care paramedics. Graduates of the year-long class, which includes many hours of both classroom and hands-on training, must be certified by the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services.

The new certification “gives us paramedics more options to better take care of our patients,” said Benson, who also serves as AirCare’s Jackson base manager.  “This will increase our scope of practice.” 

Norris said five AirCare paramedics are enrolled this fall in the critical-care paramedic classes at Holmes, and two more will begin in fall 2015. “Our goal is to have 100 percent of paramedics credentialed,” she said.

“Ultimately, our goal is to save lives, and to ensure we’re taking as many of the medical resources we have to the patient’s bedside,” she said.


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