Help is on the way

jahanna and dominique, help is on the way, paramedics, hennepin ems, emergency medical services, ems dispatchers

For Domonique Vetaw (pictured right) and Jahanna Robinson (pictured left), helping others was their primary reason for becoming EMS Dispatchers (EMD) at Hennepin Healthcare. Both women have a long history with Hennepin: both were treated here as children, and Jahanna delivered her three children at HCMC. Domonique grew up near the downtown campus and saw the hospital everyday growing up; as a child, she knew she wanted to work in this building, but wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

In 2016, both women learned of the EMS Pathways Academy, a program offered by the city of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Fire Department and Hennepin Healthcare. This program is an 11-13 week college-level course that trains Minneapolis residents from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), providing free training and EMT certification to young adults. The goal of the program is to provide a source of candidates for the fire service and Hennepin EMS (Emergency Medical Services) workforce from within the community we serve.

The program sparked an interest in both Domonique and Jahanna, who applied with a determination to be a part of this educational and ultimately employment opportunity. Whether it was Domonique as a small child telling her mom that she wanted to drive an ambulance or Jahanna wanting to help her community, they both felt this was the right fit for them and were graduates of the first program offered in Minneapolis. According to Dan Klawitter, EMS Battalion Chief for EMS Communications, graduates from this program learn a skill set they can use for life. EMS Dispatch is a career people often fall into, Dan says; they learn about Emergency Medical Services and then find out about dispatch opportunities.

Incoming calls to EMS dispatch run a range of different emergencies, such as panic attacks, motor vehicle accidents, altered mental status, falls, intoxication, drug overdoses, onset of labor, falls, etc. The role of the dispatcher is to dispatch EMS resources, gather information from the caller, provide basic life support instructions if needed, and reassure the caller that help is on the way.

Connecting with patients/families/callers over the phone can be difficult when it comes to establishing patient-centered care; both Domonique and Jahanna agree that you have to work harder for your caring intentions to come across. “I really want them to know I care about the patient,” says Domonique. “You can’t sound scripted.” Jahanna agrees that the caller needs to hear the empathy in her voice since they cannot see her. They often need to reassure the caller that help is on the way, as the caller can be frantic or even panic-stricken. Using a calm and occasionally firm voice is needed to be heard through the chaos the caller could be feeling. The caller is the dispatcher’s eyes and ears before EMS arrives, and with help from the EMD, they become “the first, first responder,” says Klawitter.

There is no such thing as a “typical shift” in the EMS Communications Center. Some days or shifts are less intense with fewer calls, but that can change in an instant. According to Klawitter, EMS dispatchers rotate their work in three main areas of the Communication Center: while assigned to the West Medical Resource Control Center, the dispatcher answers EMS-related questions and relays information to hospitals for the west metro and outstate Minnesota; as the ambulance dispatcher, they gather information related to medical emergencies, deploy ambulances, and work with other agencies to ensure emergency resources are spread across our principal service area; on business dispatch assignment, they assist as the secondary Public Safety Answering Point – 911 calls are transferred to them when a medical emergency is identified. They provide assistance and basic life-support instructions, if needed, over the phone prior to the arrival of an ambulance or paramedics. They are the link between the public caller requesting assistance and the emergency medical team.

Some of the more difficult calls to handle involve giving CPR instructions to the caller. Domonique and Jahanna say these calls become especially difficult when the caller is unable to perform CPR or when it involves children. Even when a call ends tragically, maintaining a connection with the caller is vital, whether it’s reassuring the caller that they did everything they could or helping them process the outcome without seeing what has happened. One CPR call that stands out to Jahanna did have a positive outcome: a young man found his father unresponsive outside in the bitter cold, and the son thought his father had died. Jahanna instructed the son to do CPR, and his father was able to be revived.

Being an EMD can be a very rewarding and fulfilling profession. It requires both physical skills and mental abilities. A dispatcher must be able to make decisions and act on them with limited time and information in situations where there may be an element of danger, consistently putting others first. They need to work with people in a variety of emotional states while remaining both calm and professional, not to mention staffing the department 24/7, 365 days a year to be ready to help with any emergency that may arise. For Domonique and Jahanna, the key skills an EMS dispatcher should possess are: patience, good communication skills, situational awareness, and multi-tasking. Additionally, compassion, good judgement, self-confidence and a strong desire to serve the community are vital in this role.

One goal of the EMS Pathways Academy is to encourage more people representing diverse communities to become interested in and find jobs in EMS or first-responder fields. Klawitter explains that this is an important part of the program: having emergency medical responders look more like the communities they serve. When asked their thoughts on why this is a challenge, Domonique’s answer is that there is often not a family history of this type of service or occupation; young people tend to follow in their parent’s footsteps when considering a career. Additionally, there is thought that the job does not pay well or that you constantly encounter grisly situations. Jahanna also said that there may not be the awareness of the opportunities available in this field.

Hennepin Healthcare is made up of a diverse workforce, and programs like EMS Pathways Academy are helping to connect participants with areas of career opportunity as well as improving diversity. Domonique and Jahanna said when they started in 2016, they were “the only two in the department that look like them.”

For Domonique and Jahanna, there are many great aspects about working at Hennepin Healthcare, but their love for helping people tops the list. Wearing their uniforms and being a part of the team also brings them great pride, and of course the benefits offered are an additional perk. “We are part of the organization, we help with emergencies and we care,” says Domonique and Jahanna.

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