OLEAN - Paramedics provide the highest level of in-the-field emergency medical care and can save critically ill and injured patients.
Now a partnership between area hospitals and EMS agencies in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties is making it possible for local EMTs to be trained as paramedics.
The Regional Paramedic Training Program includes distance learning labs at Olean General Hospital and the WCA Services/ALSTAR EMS Training Center in Jamestown. It's the only distance-learning paramedic program approved by the Department of Health in Western New York.
Olean General Hospital’s new distance learning laboratory enabled local EMS providers to receive training as paramedics. The lab was made possible by grants from the Lewis & Doris Reisner Fund and support from Olean General Hospital. Shown from left to right in the distance learning lab are Phil Wilson of ALSTAR EMS (pictured on monitor), Rich Reisner and Walt Reisner of TransAm Ambulance and sons of Lewis and Doris Reisner, Jeff Zewe, Olean General Hospital senior vice president of Nursing and Patient Care Services, and Todd Reisner of TransAm Ambulance and grandson of Lewis and Doris Reisner.
The program accepted its first class of 32 students in January and the class continues through December.
Those involved discussed the program to mark National Emergency Medical Services Week which started Sunday and continues through Saturday. The theme of this year's celebration is "EMS: Dedicated. For Life."
Olean General Hospital President and CEO Timothy Finan said the yearlong effort to create the Regional Paramedic Training Program is a perfect example of how dedicated local hospitals, emergency physicians and EMS agencies are to providing the best care possible.
"Creating this paramedic training program required building state-of-the-art distance learning labs at Olean General Hospital and WCA Hospital, the support of EMS medical directors and EMS faculty and the guidance of the state Bureau of EMS and Department of Health," he said. "We wouldn't have this program unless everyone was willing to work together. I think that cooperation speaks volumes about the emergency medical system in our community and the people who make it possible."
The distance-learning labs allow students and instructors to interact through real-time video and voice feeds, making it possible for instructors to teach multiple classes in different locations.
Finan said the hospital was able to build its distance learning lab due to grants from the Lewis & Doris Reisner Fund through the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation.
Paramedic Todd Reisner is the grandson of Lewis and Doris Reisner. Reisner is general manager of TransAm Ambulance in Olean and the lead Cattaraugus County instructor for the Regional Paramedic Program.
Reisner said without the program, local EMTs would have to travel to Buffalo, Elmira or Rochester to receive training.
"The classes are twice a week, four hours per class in addition to required lab sessions. Then add to that one to two hours of drive time," he said. "For the commitment in time and resources it takes, that's just too big a burden for local providers. This is really the only way we can train them locally."
Reisner said without Olean General Hospital's financial support, the program would never have gotten off the ground.
"Olean General really stepped up to the plate and allowed us to use their Education Center for this program," he said. "They were critical to the program's success."
Paramedic Phillip Wilson is EMS Clinical Operations Manager at WCA Services/ALSTAR EMS. He's also the Regional Paramedic Training Program's course administrator and an instructor.
Wilson said the distance learning technology allows top-level instructors to teach students in different locations, guaranteeing that all the students receive the same instructions and are held to the same standards whether they're in Olean or Jamestown or any other location.
"We call it the Regional Paramedic Training Program for a reason," he said. "This program offers one voice of education for paramedic training."
Betsy Wright, WCA Hospital president and CEO, said working together to provide paramedic training simply makes sense.
"Offering this program through distance learning technology makes the training feasible for local EMS providers and that will increase the number of paramedics in the community," she said. "That benefits everyone."
Wilson said as the population in the region ages, the need for paramedic services will increase.
"The baby boomers are about to go boom," he said. "They are about to hit that age where they are going to require a lot of care."
Southern Tier Health Care System in Olean helped develop the Regional Paramedic Training Program through its Southern Tier Emergency Medical System program.
Southern Tier President and CEO Donna Kahm said it's remarkable that it only took from January of 2013 to January of this year to plan, build and launch the program.
"The region's EMS faculty was the guiding force behind this effort from the beginning," she said. "Because we worked together, we were able to develop this program in less than a year."
Mrs. Kahm said support from the New York State Department of Health Bureau of EMS was also critical. She said Bureau of EMS Director Lee Burns helped guide the program and encouraged its development.
Faculty members for the Regional Paramedic Training Program include Course Medical Director Dr. George Conner; Program Medical Advisory Medical Directors Dr. Henri Lamothe, Dr. Brian Walters and Dr. Brian Clemency; Course Sponsor Administrator Phillip Wilson, NREMT-P; Program Medical Advisory Faculty Donna Kahm, STHCS CEO and STEMS Program Director, Tim Richardson, EMT-P and Ron Hasson, NREMT-P; OGH Lead CIC Todd Reisner, EMT-P as OGH Lead CIC; and Course Administrator Liaisons Mickey Forness, EMT-P; and Anna Estus.
For more information on the Regional Paramedic Training Program, please call STEMS at 372-0614.