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