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Enhancing EMS fellowship training

Donor support of new emergency response vehicle enables new doctors to train in the field

Bringing physicians to the site of a medical emergency like a car accident is a critical part of training offered by the UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care EMS (emergency medical services) fellowship program.

“We train physicians who are going to be EMS medical directors,” said Marc Gautreau, MD, clinical associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UMMS and division director of EMS/LifeFlight at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “In order for them to be fully trained, they need to spend time in the field, in the paramedics’ environment.

“There also are times when they’re needed for onsite high-acuity care, such as a field amputation if someone is trapped under a train, for example,” he said.

The challenge, however, was safely transporting hospital staff, trainees and equipment to the site of an emergency. The cruiser that was being used had been retired from police service.

“The paradox was that the vehicle was no longer useful to patrol the hospital campus,” said Dr. Gautreau. “Still, we had to rely on it to take doctors all over the city—and it couldn’t even climb a hill in the snow.”

Nor did it have the capacity to securely carry critical equipment such as a cardiac monitor and defibrillator, medications and wound dressings.

A new emergency response vehicle (ERV), however, was beyond the department’s operational budget. Gautreau turned to his colleagues to raise funds and made a substantial pledge himself, but the Ford Interceptor SUV—a specially designed, dedicated ERV with a $75,000 price tag—seemed out of reach.

Enter Shrewsbury philanthropist Barbara Donahue. Years ago, she and her late husband, Irving J. Donahue Jr., established a charitable fund with the explicit purpose “to save a life or change a life.”

Early on, the couple donated scholarships at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Mr. Donahue’s alma mater—changing the lives of numerous deserving students. In the decades since, the Town of Shrewsbury, UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center also have benefitted from the Donahue fund’s largesse.

“One of the first things we did for UMass Memorial years ago was to provide funds to buy a heart pump,” Mrs. Donahue said. “My husband had a heart condition and if there had been a heart pump at Memorial back then, he wouldn’t have had to go to Boston for seven bypasses.

"... I knew this could both save a life and change a life—many lives, actually."

“We also helped the hospital get a dedicated CT breast scanner,” she continued. “There are only five of them in use in the United States, and it’s a fabulous machine.”

For Donahue, it comes down to making a difference. “It’s what makes you want to give,” she said. “I’m 90 years old and I just love making dreams come true.”

“One day I went to a doctor’s office and a nurse threw her arms around me,” she recalled. “She told me the scanner helped save her from having major surgery and losing both breasts. Its results like that … it makes you feel pretty darn good about giving.”

So when UMass Medical School reached out to her about helping the Emergency Department purchase its ERV, Donahue didn’t hesitate and made a $25,000 gift.

“Of course I said yes, because I knew this could both save a life and change a life—many lives, actually,” she said.

“From a morale and momentum point of view, her gift was worth so much more than the actual dollar amount,” Gautreau said. “It said, ‘We are within reach, we can do this.’ It was one of the more gratifying moments of my career.”

The new ERV enables EMS physicians and fellows to quickly and safely respond to medical emergencies in the greater Worcester area. It also gives the Medical School a proverbial leg up when recruiting the best and brightest emergency physicians to its fellowship program.

“We received three applications just in one month this fall,” said Gautreau. “That was early in the process, so more are certainly likely.

“This makes it possible for UMass Medical School to be a leader in what many believe is the forefront of health care—developing EMS as a more integral part of the care delivery system,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to cut costs by enabling paramedics to do more in people’s homes, under the supervision of highly trained physicians.”

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