Mackinac Island 911 – Medical Emergencies

A few weeks ago we had a kitchen fire, and it was our first opportunity to see our volunteer Mackinac Island Fire Department in action up close.  Yes, we’d seen them before downtown, or coming up Cadotte to other folks’ homes – but it’s not until something happens to you personally that you begin to understand – and want to understand even more – how the emergency services work in your community.  The Fire Department response time was excellent, and Ted and I both were so impressed with the professionalism and dedication to their jobs of the men and women who volunteer for this important post.

Little did we know that a few days later we would get up close with the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team on the Island also.

Ironically, I had spoken with Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Tony Spata just after our fire and asked if it would be possible to do a story on Emergency Medical Services on the Island.  I knew with all the HIPPA regulations, there would be a good deal of red tape to go through to have a story approved.  Tony was pretty confident that the story would be okay’d from the EMS side, but finding a patient willing to give permission to be photographed during an emergency might be difficult.

Enter Cathie and Charlie, Ted’s sister and brother-in-law from New Orleans.

Just after eating lunch at Bistro on the Green one afternoon during their visit, Cathie and Charlie left a little ahead of Ted and I to go back into town.  When we caught up with Charlie, he had pulled his scooter to the side of the road to wait for us, but Cathie was nowhere in sight.  We stopped to talk with Charlie, and after a couple of minutes, Ted said, “Uh oh – somebody must have had a bike accident.”  I looked up the street and saw several people running toward the sidewalk and immediately said, “It’s not Cathie, is it!”

Ted and I rode up to the now crowded intersection, and I saw right away that it was indeed Cathie lying on the sidewalk.  A young man had pulled off his shirt to put it under her head, and blood was spreading onto the shirt.  Another gentleman was down on his knees at the curb keeping the sunlight from shining in Cathie’s face.  She was conscious and talking, and someone had already called 911.  Several people were asking if she’d lost consciousness, and she assured everyone that she hadn’t.  She had pulled to the curb to wait on us and lost her balance when she took her feet off the bike pedals.  The young man who had loaned his shirt said he had watched it happen and that her head had hit pretty hard.

A Mackinac Island policeman rode up on his bike, and a few seconds later the ambulance appeared, threading its way through the crowd and pulling up next to where the group of people had gathered around Cathie.  EMT Tony Spata, who I had talked with about the EMS story, happened to be the driver, and with him was EMT Mike Wilk.  They began to question Cathie, as they checked her vital signs.  They told her she would need a cervical collar before she could sit up, but Cathie asked if she could refuse it, and they said “yes, against medical advice.”  Cathie, being the hard-headed dear that she is, refused it.

After it was determined that Cathie’s injury was probably minor (“may” need a stitch), I stopped worrying, and my “story” idea flashed through my brain.  I asked Tony if I could photograph this  emergency event, and he said I could, with the understanding that I could not publish anything without full approval from his supervisor.  And, of course, I would have to have the patient’s permission to photograph her.  I grinned, dropped down in front of Cathie so she could see my face and said, “Cathie, can I take your photograph while the EMTs work on you . . . and you know if you say yes, that it will all be on the blog if the EMS folks say it’s ok.”

Cathie, always a trooper, said, “Go for it!”

Mike Wilk feels for a lump on the back of Cathie's head as Tony Spata prepares an ice pack.

Tony took Cathie's vital signs and he and Mike determined that a trip in the ambulance was in Cathie's very near future. A Doctor needed to assess her since she had hit her head, and also determine if the laceration on her head needed stitches.

Going back in time, I can remember distinctly the very first time I saw the ambulance on the island.  After vacationing at the Chippewa for three or four years, I had the term “no motorized vehicles” practically imprinted on my brain.  Yes, I knew there were emergency vehicles here – but I had never seen one.  We left the Chippewa one summer morning and rented bikes to ride around the island.  As we neared the half-way point of the ride, we came around a bend, and there in the road was the ambulance, with two EMTs down in the road next to a fallen biker.  I just stood there practically in shock for a few seconds at the sight of something with a motor!  Since then, and of course now that we live here, we’ve seen the fire truck and ambulance many times, and occasionally the Police Department SUV.  But for the everyday visitor, who only spends a few days on the Island, there’s a very good chance you’ll never see any of these vehicles.

Back to Cathie . . .

Cathie being loaded on the ambulance. The young man on the left is the one who gave up his shirt for Cathie's "pillow". He was so nice, as were all the people who stopped to help.

Tony asked if I wanted to “ride along”, and you know my answer.

I took this photo from the front seat looking into the back of the ambulance. Mike rode in back to monitor Cathie.

I've only ridden in the back of an ambulance once as a patient, and this was my first ride in the front seat. As we approached town, bikers moved to the side of the street to make way.

Market Street, where the Medical Center is located, was crowded. Tony used the loud speaker system to ask walkers, bikers, and carriages to move to the side of the road.

We pulled into the ambulance bay of Mackinac Island Medical Center. The entire ride lasted maybe three minutes.

Cathie was taken directly from the ambulance into the emergency room, where she was seen by the Doctor on call (more on that later).

After the Doctor checked her over and determined that a stitch wasn't necessary, he gave us instructions on what to watch for in the next 24 hours and told us how to keep her wound clean. We were so glad Cathie's injury was minor, and she and Charlie could continue their vacation without being hampered in any way - well, except that Cathie would wear a helmet from that point on whenever she was within 10 feet of a bicycle.

There are four Emergency Medical Services personnel who live on Mackinac Island and take calls year-round.  They are Mark Bielinski (EMT Basic), Molly Green (EMT Specialist), Sam Barnwell and Rick Linn (Paramedics).  Tony Spata (EMT Basic) lives on the island seven months out of the year and takes calls during those months.  All five are employed full-time with other employers and work EMS either on their off-work time or can leave work when necessary to respond to a call – or both.  Two of these five are also volunteer fire fighters, two of the five are elected city officials, two of the five are business owners, and two of the five work in the horse-drawn transportation business.  None are full-time EMTs, though they may be on call as many as 80 hours a week.  The Area Manager, Mark Wilk, lives in St. Ignace and is Chief of Police for that city.

Two EMS personnel are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round.  From late May through October, Allied EMS Systems, Inc. (the official corporation name) partners with Mackinac Island Medical Center to hire EMTs and Paramedics from off the Island to combine working in the clinic with taking calls.  By working in the clinic, but still being free to leave if EMS is paged, it is financially feasible for off-Islanders to come over and help cover during the heavy tourist and summer resident season.  This summer three Paramedics and one EMT helped cover the summer schedule.   Coverage is a lot easier in the winter when run volume is at or near zero, and year-round personnel have more time to devote to infrequent runs.

I know one of the first questions Ted and I asked, when we were considering moving here for almost six months a year, was about medical services.  We were delighted to find out that the Mackinac Island Medical Center can handle any and all trauma or medical emergencies occurring on the Island.  The staff is fully competent, and equipment and supplies readily available.  Dr. Jennifer Shockley is the full-time Island Physician at the Medical Center, and she and her family live on the island year-round.  During the summer’s heavy tourist season, off-Island Family Practice Residents (they are Doctors, just not accredited in their specialties yet) come in for two-week rotations and see patients, under the direction of Dr. Shockley who oversees this portion of their training. Dr. Shockley gets a break when other attending Doctors come from off Island to cover her.  It’s all coordinated so there is no break in medical coverage between the Island Physician and her replacement.  The Residents are under the direction of the Attending Physician, whoever is on call.

There are no surgical facilities or specialty services on the Island.  Any patient needing more advanced medical care than what is offered at the Medical Center can be transported to a suitable facility on the mainland.  Most of the transports take place on the ferry boats, and all ferry lines bend over backwards to accommodate patient transfers, for which Mackinac Island Allied EMS is extremely grateful.  Depending on the circumstances, one or two of the Mackinac Island EMS personnel will accompany the patient on the boat and hand over the patient to the St. Ignace Allied EMS crew.  In other cases, one or two of the St. Ignace Allied EMS personnel will come over on the boat to pick up the patient on the Island side and accompany the patient back to the ambulance on the mainland.  If necessary, air medical services can be utilized (either fixed wing or helicopter), private service, or U.S. Coast Guard.  In that case, the patient is taken to the airport by ambulance. Snow mobile transports have been made when no other options were available.

I learned so much in researching this story, and I appreciate the willingness of Allied EMS Systems, Inc. in allowing me to cover their services.  As a summer resident of Mackinac Island, I have nothing but pride and praise for these men and women who work many extra hours a week to provide emergency care for visitors and island residents.  As with any kind of emergency, we always pray that the service is never necessary, but knowing that it is – and that it swift, professional, and administered by caring individuals – makes us rest much easier at night.

A special thanks to Tony Spata for his patience and diligence in providing the answers to all my questions.

49 thoughts on “Mackinac Island 911 – Medical Emergencies

  1. I love this blog, Brenda. As you mentioned I’ve been on the island before and I’ve never seen any of the “motor” vehicles. It was weird to see a picture of one.

    It is a wonderful story of what the people that most of us never in our lives, well hopefully never, get to see do to help us. They are an amazing group and they sure did come quick.

    I’m glad that Cathie turned out to be ok.

    You should also do a story on the islands Vet. (I don’t know if you’ve ever done one on him yet.)

    • I haven’t done a story on Dr. Al, Judi, but it’s on my list. As you might guess, he’s a pretty busy guy on this island!

  2. OMG wow! Can’t believe all that happened.

    Oddly enough I think I have seen a motorized vehicle on nearly every trip there. A lot of times they have one hanging out by the Police Station (one would think they would have strict rules about it being put away!)

  3. Wow! Very interesting…while we vacationd there July 22-24 the ambulance DID indeed come out and did head the direction you speak of even…was it then that your family’s accident happened? I’ve never seen the ambulance in action while on the island and this is probably my 5th or 6th visit since little, but was sooo weird to see the ambulance there…felt out of place! I hoped whatever happened that day was nothing serious…thanks again for sharing…

  4. Well I am sure glad that Cathie wasn’t hurt much worse and hope that by now she is all healed up. I know that they are neccesary but like Amy mentioned, seeing any type of motorized vehicle on the island just seems so out of place, except for maybe snowmobiles. Two of my boys are EMT’s, with one being a paramedic and the other just finishing up with paramedic school and I have to say that I am very proud of them and what they do.

  5. Brenda, I am curious. Do they have nurses or just doctor? Also, I would imagine they have clerical/reception? Not as crucial in am emergency, of course, but interesting to know about.

    • Yes to both, Gail. There is a large reception/waiting area and staff who manages it. The Medical Center is used by island residents AND visitors as “the doctor’s office”. They see lots of sore throats and tummy bugs – not just trauma/medical emergencies. And there are nurses. Should have mentioned that. Thanks.

  6. Brenda,

    I’m so glad Cathie’s accident was no worse that it was and that she recovered quickly.

    Your blog was extremely interesting and informative today. Thank you.

    I’m wondering if you know what year an ambulance came to the Island? The reason I’m asking is because back in the late 1950’s the lady, for whom I had worked at The Arch Rock Curio Shop, had a sudden medical emergency and needed to be taken to the hospital in Petoskey. A private tourist carriage was commandeered and she was rushed to the Coast Guard Station where she was transferred to a boat and taken to Mackinaw City. There, she was transferred to an ambulance and taken to Petoskey. It would have been much better if there had been an amblance (and an airport) on the Island at that time.

      • Well, I know there was an ambulance there in the summer of ’57 because that’s when I fell off the horse and was out for four days. But I remember the ambulance then was just sort of a station wagon. Well I don’t remember anything from that particular incident, except waking up in the hospital in Petosky and wondering why everyone was making such a fuss! I was most upset that I had missed the Coast Guard cutter trip to Mackinaw City – very fast and exciting, but i was – out.

    • Before the writing of a work known as the White Paper by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the mid 60’s EMS didn’t exist as more than a transport service. No field medical care besides doctor home visits existed before this time.

  7. I have had the chance to visit the Medical Center twice and they are top-notch!. The facility is an accredited Emergency Room.
    My daughter had to go there back when the center was located next to the Post Office for Strep throat as a Scout with the Honor Guard. I was treated there once also.
    Before being a patient, I toured the facility just after it opened to see what was available since I was the First Aid person for our Scout group.
    Its a comfort knowing this facility is there and can handle most emergencies.

    Pat Steele, R.N.

  8. As my parents and husband aged, I had the opportunity to meet several EMTs. They were all, without exception, stellar, caring people. I believe this profession attracts the good ones! Thanks for this interesting post, Bree.

  9. Thanks Bree- Wow.. I hope I didn’t Jinx Cathie by requesting a EMS/First Responders Blog from you…. Thanks for the insight and making our Mondays a little more enjoyable….So the next Assignment..Police on the Island???haaahhaaaaa….I might have just Jinxed Ted…Hope he doesnt get a speeding ticket on his Schwinn!

    Much Love to you and Yours

  10. Interesting blog about the medical care for both those who live on the island and those who visit. It is good to know that this area is covered so well.
    Happy to know Cathie’s injuries were not to serious.
    Thanks to you and those who do the work for sharing the info with us.

  11. Another great blog, Brenda. You realize that you are one of the rare individuals who has ridden in a motorized vehicle on the island that was neither part of the crew or a patient! That Cathie, she’ll do anything to help you get a story!

  12. Very interesting….wow! I have always wondered about this service. It is wonderful to know that they are well staffed and there to serve! Thank you for all of your hard work on this one – and keep reminding Cathy to wear that helmet!!!

  13. The medical center is very modern and extremely clean. I was seen for a non-emergency situation with the previous female doctor and was really impressed. I have stayed the last 2 years on the island during the winter for about a week and have seen the police SUV out on daily basis. It is still strange for me to see it!

  14. Very interesting blog Bree and I am am glad Cathie is okay. I used to work with Rick Linn at the Island House desk over 30 years ago. He caught the “bug” and now lives on the Island year around and is a parametic. I think he also does missions work in Honduras in the winter time.

  15. If I had just listened to that inner voice and worn a helmet, Brenda might still be waiting for permission from another patient to write about the wonderful emergency services available on the island. HIPPA, HIPPA, Hooray! As a matter of fact, I suspect she put that curb there deliberately. No “Cathie, are you OK”. It was “Cathie, is it OK to take pictures”. Seriously, I think poor Brenda got the worst of it since she nursed my wound and cleaned up all the mess I made at the condo and then had to listen to Ted fuss at me not to walk so fast because of Dr. orders. One expects the professionals to be exceptional but the shirtless young man (Joe) was so nice and very cool under pressure. He instantly told me not to try to get up and peeled off his shirt to put under my head. Others gathered around to help and someone even acted as a sunshade for my eyes. The paramedics and police and Med Center staff were top notch but I think I’d rather avoid them on our next trip. Thank you to all who helped me and said a word to the Big Guy in my behalf. Next trip, NO TRIP!!!

    • You ladies are going to make “Joey Shirt Guy” an Island celebrity. My wife looked at the picture and made this “Hmmmm” sound??? I did a double take to see what she was HMMMmming about.

  16. When she saw Joe “the shirt guy”, I think her exact words were “things are looking up around here”. I thought she was talking about Ted’s and mine arrival at the scene. I guess my grandmother was right when she told me to be sure and wear clean underwear when you left the house. Great blog.

  17. What a very interesting topic! Growing up, I’ve been on the island quite a few times. While I’ve seen the emergency vehicles in and around town, I’ve never seen them on an actual call. I echo everyone’s elses comments regarding first responders … they are true heros and so very good at what they do. A word about Joe the Shirt Guy … as a 4th grade teacher, I look around at our world and wonder at the perceived indifference that it seems people have for their fellow human beings.It makes me sad for my kiddos’ futures. So, it does my heart good to see someone stopping and helping in this situation, willing to, literally, take the shirt off his back for someone else. It’s this sort of thing that I talk to my kids about all the time. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  18. I am laughing out loud at the last few comments, and here I thought I was the only one that wanted to hear more about “Joe”. 😉

  19. That was an awesome blog Bree!! Very, very informative. I am so happy that Mackinac Island has such a high tech medical center. That is so great for the residents and visitors! They do such wonderful service for all!

  20. Is this Blog still active? Nice post on the EMS incident. I have always had an interest in EMS on the Island. By the way; I am a paramedic and am researching an EMS conference held on the Island in the mid to late 80’s. I don’t not recall the conference title nor sponsor. Do you personally have an recollection of such a conference? If not, do you know anyhone who might know?
    Warmest Regards,

    • Hi Dan! We’ve only lived here during the summers for five years, but I am going to forward your questions to Tony Spata, an EMT here on the Island. Hopefully, he will be able to help.

  21. I had a serious biking accident on Mackinac Island this summer, and unfortunately the care I received from the ambulance was poor. Maybe it was a different group of people from what you wrote about here.

    • So sorry your experience wasn’t a good one, Huffygirl. Yours is the first negative I’ve heard about the Island ambulance group. Possible cause could be a busy summer day with several accidents at once in different parts of the island. They can get stretched pretty thin in that case. Hope you are all healed now and ready for another trip to the Island.

      Sent from my iPhone


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