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Whatcom County investment in high-tech ambulance gurneys means added safety for patients and aid crews

About 15 years ago, all the Whatcom County fire districts agreed on using the same gurneys countywide to ensure equipment compatibility when transferring patients between EMS units and so all personnel would be trained on how to use them. But those reached the end of their useful life and needed to be replaced.

Whatcom County Emergency Medical Services Manager Mike Hilley said all the Whatcom County District fire chiefs deserve “big kudos” for coming together and agreeing on another proposal that made a significant investment to replacement those gurneys and related lifesaving equipment in the EMS ambulances in use countywide.

Medical aid units that handle basic life support (BLS) transport and medic units that handle advanced life support (ALS) transport throughout Whatcom County are now being equipped with the latest in gurney technology due to a $1.2-million 10-year investment funded by the countywide EMS property tax levy.

“Unless you have been a patient who has been transported, you may not realize how important this investment is,” Hilley said during a phone interview with Whatcom News. “Being moved on a gurney can be nerve-wracking, especially if you are feeling unstable, wobbly.”

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The new gurneys, Power-Pro XT from Stryker, are equipped with electric hydraulic motors that gently and safely lifts the cot up from as low as ground level. They also accommodate wider patients more comfortably and provide more locations for securing a patient to the gurney.

All medic (ALS) units have also been equipped with powered loading systems that work with the gurneys to move patients gently and stably in and out of the back of the medic units, eliminating the need for several crew members to be involved with lifting and pushing the gurney. Once the gurney is in position, a single crew member can safely load and unload the patient using push button controls.

Some fire districts are choosing to also equip their BLS units with the power loading systems.

In addition to the gurneys, Stryker Stair-PRO chairs were purchased to replace heavier stair chairs that were getting close to their useful lifespan. A stair chair is used when moving a patient in close quarters, such as stairwells or small elevators, when using a gurney is not possible.

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The stair chairs have tracks that enable gently and safely moving a reclining patient down flights of stairs by placing the chair’s track on the steps and rolling the track across the tops of each step while using a braking mechanism to ensure a controlled descent.

54 new gurneys, 7 new stair chairs and 7 power loading systems have been received and distributed to the fire districts according to Hilley.

Hilley said the investment also included updating and placing many other lifesaving devices placed in aid units. These include PhysioControl LifePak devices that enable emergency medical technicians to monitor a patient with much the same level of detail as would be available in the emergency room while also providing defibrillation when necessary. “The current LifePak 15 units have been in a field a long time,” Hilley said.

Key to this investment is a lease-to-own style financing arrangement Stryker made available to Whatcom County EMS. Under the program, EMS is committed to 10 years of annual payments to Stryker and in return they can upgrade equipment at no cost when newer versions are made available. “For instance,” Hilley said, “we could swap out our gurneys for a newer version expected in 3 to 4 years that will be 30 to 25 pounds lighter.”

“We were not immediately sure this was a good idea,” Hilley said. “But we talked with other agencies in other states and they were quite happy with it. This means at the end of 10 years we will have better equipment with remaining useful life but at the price of 10-year-old soon to be obsolete equipment.”

Hilley added that by making the purchase through the EMS levy funds, smaller districts are going to be properly equipped when it would be difficult if not impossible for some to fund such equipment purchases on their own.

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