I think we were out of town last year when the EMS had their open house for the new facilities, and I am sorry we missed it because every time I drive by I always wonder how things work there. So I just decided it was time to find out how things do work there.
I contacted Kevin Baize, who has been the EMS director since September of 2012, having worked in the Muleshoe office part-time up to August 2008 before taking the full-time director’s position.
During our visit and tour of the facility, however, we got into a little history of emergency medical care itself, and I heard a familiar name come up: Dr. Red Duke. I remember listening to Dr. Duke’s entertaining words of medical wisdom and advice on a Houston television station. I did not realize he was the doctor on duty at Dallas Parkland Hospital in 1963 when President Kennedy and Governor Connally were brought in after being shot by Lee Harvey Oswald. It was too late to save President Kennedy, but Dr. Duke administered emergency trauma care to Governor Connally which is credited with saving his life. And I had no idea he is the doctor who saw the benefit of and need for emergency medical care to save lives, or as he put it, keep people alive till God decides what comes next. Dr. Duke built the Level 1 trauma center at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, which became the prototype for future trauma centers. He then saw the potential for using helicopters for transporting patients in need of emergency care and Life Flight was born in 1976, which became the model for helicopters serving as ambulances in the air.
The point of this digression is to say that emergency medical care has not been around forever; it is not a given, and I found its history quite interesting. Muleshoe’s EMS is not a given, either, and I suspect we all tend to take it for granted, at least until we have a need for it.
Muleshoe’s initial EMS came into being in the early 80s, sometime after the EMS Systems Act of 1973 was passed, providing funding for more than 300 EMS systems across the nation. Up until then, Ellis Funeral Home had taken ambulance calls, and in the early days funeral homes were more likely to simply pick up a patient and take them to the hospital. As time went on, Ellis Funeral Home did have certified CPAs; after the EMS Systems Act when EMS systems began to get more funding and therefore became more medically aware, they added certified EMAs and paramedics, like volunteers Larry Rasco and Wayne Wauson. Starla Ellis worked full time for EMS; Todd Ellis put in his time as well, and the funeral home had to set prices for ambulance calls and transfers to Lubbock. In 1983 Ellis turned the EMS contract back to the county, and Bailey County is the entity responsible for the service now.
And how did volunteering for EMS work? I had questions, so I asked Bryan Morris, who started volunteering in 1991 and retired in 2019. The first thing he commented on was the level of patient care when he started compared to now. Modern medical technology has advanced dramatically since then so that now EMS personnel are trained to do much more to stabilize and save lives as they are in route to the hospital for further care. More lifesaving equipment has also been added to the trucks as well. Bryan said when he was a volunteer they were paid $5 per call and had pagers that either sent you to an address or sent you to pick up the truck-truck being the label of choice for the vehicle, then and now, rather than ambulance. He said you would respond from your house and meet the truck on the scene or at the Muleshoe State Bank-now AimBank- parking lot and go from there. The years the hospital was closed were tough, Bryan said, because everything had to go to Clovis or Amherst for further help, and it would take two to three hours for the round trip to the hospital and then back home. He said it is a tough job because of sacrifices volunteers make that people don’t think about, like missing holidays with the family, leaving birthday parties, losing sleep at night to go on call and then go to work that morning.
After the nursing home was moved in the 80s to its present location, a room became available in the vacant building. Volunteers as well as medics who would come in from out of town to help could sleep on a couch and had access to a bathroom and shower. Later, also in the 80s, a building was added behind the hospital to serve as EMS headquarters. It housed two trucks, had two offices, a bathroom with a shower and a bedroom. Eventually the offices were combined into one and moved to the front of the building, turning the empty space into a real bedroom, making it a bit more private when in use by the out of town medics.
During this time the EMS had full time employees who worked during the day from 6 am to 5pm, and then volunteers would take over from 5 pm till 6 in the morning, but would be on call from home. Medics would work twenty-four hour shifts. Four people were available to man two trucks. EMS volunteers like Bryan, Jackie Wayne Burris, Kem Bales, Tommy Green, Alex Garcia, and others began to take more training to become certified paramedics. Kim Black, Kirby Brantley, and Randy Watkins, and others also served as volunteers and paramedics back in the beginning. Today’s paramedics, as Bryan mentioned, have even more to learn due to more advanced equipment and procedures. Volunteers as well as the out of town medics were paid for the time. The building now houses the older third truck used when the other two are busy.
Bailey County had been wanting to upgrade the EMS services, so when In 2019 when the original MacDonald’s location became available at the right price, it was decided remodeling that building, with its indoor playground area and high ceilings to accommodate the trucks, along with other easily redesigned areas, would be more cost-efficient than starting from scratch. In January of 2019 they moved from the hospital location to the new, more modern facilities.
Kevin took me on a tour of their new digs. The new logo greets visitors in the front office and waiting area, manned by Corie Ann Ingersoll, shown here with AEMT Raven Hernandez.
The new headquarters house complete living facilities, starting with the kitchen will feed and seat twenty-four people.
Two bedrooms are available for those on duty when they need to rest or on the night shift.
They have a full bathroom, shower and all.
A laundry room is also available.
And of course there is a TV room with easy chairs for entertainment to fill any free time when duties and calls have been fulfilled.
Raven smiled when she made it clear that everyone is supposed to clean up after themselves, no matter the mess, no matter which room they have left a mess She laughed that on occasion some workers have to be reminded that their mother doesn’t work there. I believe I heard that sentiment expressed in the teacher workroom when I was teaching- a petty universal dilemma!
These days, Kevin told me Bailey County EMS is staffed by a mix of full-time and part-time personnel to answer distress calls using the three trucks on the premises. The trucks are equipped the same; it just depends on the calls that come in as to which truck responds to the call. The primary truck takes the first initial calls to Lubbock and Amarillo; the secondary truck covers later calls while the primary truck is gone. The third truck is basically a reserve truck if an ambulance breaks down. They choose from the younger two when possible. But they do have a grant for a new truck coming in mid November which boasts power load systems, whatever that is. Ask Kevin. The trucks they have look professional and up to date to me. The trucks always have to be manned with at least two certified personnel on the truck answering each call.
They have recently acquired a gurney that easily lifts up to 750 pounds, which is occasionally called for.
Moving to the new location also allowed room for a drug and medical equipment room, which helps things stay organized and easy to inventory and keep well-stocked with what they need.
The work load is handled by eight full-time positions during the week and with volunteers who help on the weekends and nights since many of them have other full-time jobs during the week. Kevin and Corie Ann are considered full-time. along with the six certified EMTs and paramedics who work twenty-four hours on and forty-eight hours off. Corie Ann works 8 to 5 Monday through Friday on administrative chores and is the glue that keeps things running smoothly. Kevin is a certified paramedic and is there all week and covers administration duties as well as calls and covers on weekends when short on staff.
Four levels of certification are offered to qualify to work in EMS: Emergency Medical Responder (EMR); Emergency Medical Technician (EMT); Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT), and Paramedic and licensed Paramedic, the two highest levels that require the most medical training. All levels of training also require continuing education courses, and every six months skill competency at each level is checked, and every month case reviews are done to check on patient care. Our EMS has a standing list of ten EMTs, six AEMTs, and fourteen paramedics to serve when calls come in. Some of these people are on the full-time staff and others are the volunteers.
Kevin made the comment that sometimes people will refer to the EMTs as ambulance drivers, and they do in fact drive the trucks. But that sounds a bit casual to these people who go to the trouble to take classes, receive medical training, and do clinicals to give of their time to help people in medical emergencies. EMS drivers are required to have a regular driver’s license, but they are more than just the driver of the vehicle.
How does one contact the EMS when a need arises? To begin with, 9-1-1 should be called first, not the EMS office. Those calls go directly to the Muleshoe Police Department. If the call concerns a medical emergency, the police department calls EMS, and the EMTs handle the situation. Many of those calls are considered well-fare calls, where they just go to the location and check on someone’s condition. Some of the actual emergency situations that are called in are falls, chest pains, difficulty breathing, blood sugar issues, strokes, heart attacks, and cardiac arrest. Very often calls involve vehicle wrecks and hit deer.
Calls are classified as either medical or trauma when they get to the EMS. Trauma would be things like falls, wrecks, fights, anything physical that hurts outside the body. Medical emergencies would be considered anything inside the body that is not going right, like heart attacks. Keven said 80 percent of their calls are medical and 20 percent are trauma. Usually in higher population areas, trauma calls are more common. Slick roads tend to lower the number of calls since people will slow down while driving, which I found interesting since I figured slick roads would cause more accidents.
The office averages about two to three calls a day. Kevin said when the coronavirus hit, their call volume went down because people were fearful of going to the hospital. Now the call volume has spiked because people are in worse shape since they didn’t call when they should have.
Sirens and speed tend to be associated with ambulances, so I asked about that. The use of both is up to the crew’s discretion based on information from the dispatcher. It is a risk-based decision. In the case of the siren, is there a need to clear the road with the siren? And that is the purpose of the siren-asking permission for the right of way. Kevin said it is important to pull to the side and allow the truck to pass. And not necessarily for the to speed past. In the case of speed, is the risk of a wreck worth it based on the patient’s condition? The trucks have governors on the speedometers that only allow them to go ten miles per hour above the speed limit. Crew members are moving around working in the back of the ambulance and high speed could put them and the patient in danger, so discretion is used. Calls considered a code 1 go with no lights, no sirens; code 3 would use lights and sirens.
EMTs work on what they call response time and chute time. Chute time is from the time the call comes in to the time they are in route to the location. Response time is from the time the call comes in to the time they actually arrive at the designated location. Kevin said they really scrutinize the chute time in order to maintain safe driving practices and not get in too big a hurry and make mistakes, which in turn will keep everyone safe and shorten and the response time.
EMS is not considered an essential service in Texas, interesting in these days of COVID-19 when the virus cases are kept track of there, and the service is funded by the county and supported by your tax dollars. Kevin and crew appreciate the strong community support here and strive to use those tax dollars wisely. Daily duties include washing and maintaining the trucks, keeping an ongoing inventory of medical supplies and equipment, maintaining the building and yard maintenance, and being responsible for one’s own housekeeping duties-vacuuming, cooking and clean-up, laundry, house cleaning.
If you missed the open house like I did, stop by sometime and take a tour, but also thank the people who are there for you when you might need them.
They do work hard, and who knows? Some day you might get to ride in one of their trucks.
Thanks to Kevin Baize, Raven Hernandez, Corie Ann Ingersoll, Bryan Morris, Kem Bales, Todd Ellis, and Dr. Bruce Purdy, for their help with this article.