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We Gotta Go Talk to the Dead!

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By Brittany Bennett, on June 21, 2013

“We Gotta Go Talk to the Dead!”

These are the words that I heard as I walked across the Person County EMS parking lot last Wednesday around 7:45am. I had been gearing up for what I hoped to be an exciting day with EMS, but I assumed that I would at least get settled first and meet everyone on the shift. I quickly learned that in the EMS world, it’s never safe to assume anything.

Shift supervisor, Bob Clay, told me to jump in the ambulance because we were “going to talk to the dead,” which really meant that he had to go to the home of a woman whose body had been found just before the start of the shift. Once we were on the way, he explained to me that the reason for this visit was that one of his duties as shift supervisor is acting medical examiner because there isn’t one in Person County.  I’m sure you’re probably thinking that saying we’re going to talk to the dead is a strange way to broach this topic with me, but if you ever get a chance to meet Bob Clay, you’ll understand that he is one of the funniest people in Person County and has a great talent for using humor to make you feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

For the remainder of the day I hung out with Bob and the rest of the crew for that shift. They talked to me about the typical challenges faced by EMS departments in rural counties. In Person County, there is only one EMS location in Roxboro, which can be worrisome for people living in the northern or southern parts of the county who need fast medical assistance. The limitations of the local hospital, which is normal for rural areas, also strains the EMS system when their ambulances have to take patients to Duke University Medical Center in Durham or UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill to receive more sophisticated treatment, putting them out of commission for hours. Fortunately, there are mutual aid agreements with surrounding counties and even in southern Virginia near northern Person County, to provide assistance in certain situations. This does not alleviate the heart of the issue, which is ultimately funding. We all know that the reality of providing local government services is the need to do more, or at least the same, with less money.  Budget decisions are often made for EMS based on call volume. However, this is not always the most accurate depiction of the department’s needs because it’s not consistent. There is an understanding of these problems in Person County, as there are plans to open a satellite EMS site in the near future. EMS staff also works to maintain their training and continuing education so that they can deliver high quality medical services.

I’m glad I was able to spend the day with EMS. If I’m ever in a position of county management, I will understand some of issues this department faces and be able to make informed decisions.

Come back next Friday for a continuation of my adventures in Person County!

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