The rate of assault-related injuries was 14 times higher for paramedics than firefighters in 2010, according to researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health.
Jennifer Taylor and her team of researchers received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2009 to research violence rates among first responders. The team concluded that the highest rate of injury was among fire department personnel, which includes paramedics, emergency medical transporters and firefighters. The majority of these injuries came from patient assault on emergency medical service responders.
It is not unusual for patients to assault EMS personnel if coming out of an altered mental state. Patients who are intoxicated or feel confused, scared or alone are likely to hit the nearest person.
Taylor and her team are currently seeking constructive ways to stop stretching EMS personnel too thin in cities like Philadelphia. With a population of 1.5 million people, there are not enough EMS personnel to adequately meet Philadelphia’s demand.
Unlike members of the police force, EMS personnel don’t get days off to cope with stress following a traumatic incidents, and the frequency of these events normalizes EMS workers to this trauma.
There is also a challenge in prosecuting people who assault EMS workers. These patients are often in altered mental states, making it difficult to determine intent to assault, a key factor in prosecuting that charge.
“EMS providers are an unusual breed — they will put other’s safety above their own each and every time. However, to go back and see the same patient they treated yesterday in the same situation equipped with no tools to handle the situation is demoralizing,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, the first step to raising standards of care is to study the healthcare system in Philadelphia and in general. Each medic in the field is going to deal with stress and trauma differently and in their own time — a reason why the technique of Critical Incident Stress Management is so ineffective for healthcare providers.
“Forcing providers to sit in a room and telling them how they should feel about traumatic incidents does not allow for emotional recovery,” Taylor said.
Taylor believes that a paramedicine approach would also be beneficial. This means establishing a more holistic role for EMS, where they can help prevent emergencies instead of just responding to and mitigating the consequences of them. This includes the referral of patients to preventative care and/or education centers if they seem to be having chronic issues. EMS workers’ role could also begin to include the education of their patients on preventative measures and further help if necessary.
“EMS are society’s biggest band-aid’s,” Taylor said.
EMS personnel have little control over where they are called to, when they are called to serve and what situations they will be called to help in. Taylor and her team think that these circumstances put EMS personnel at great risk for burnout.
Taylor said that in an ideal future, there would be enough EMS personnel in densely populated areas to meet the demand without being overworked. She also said that with some first responders receiving over 700 calls a day, enhanced communication with dispatchers would help make the process more efficient.