Ambulance Service looking for community support

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 14            April 17, 2003

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What happened to the "first response" to emergencies involving drowning, heart attacks, traffic accidents and burn victims that was promised to the residents of San Pedro Town? Dr. Jeff Sersland, Dr. Rene Sersland and Andrew Remuzzi of Medical Universities of the Americas (MUA), the planning team responsible for the San Pedro Emergency Rescue Service (SPERS), would like to assure the citizens and tourists, that efforts to establish the rescue service continue. "We want to let everyone know we are actively pursuing all means necessary to establish an emergency care system that can be effectively implemented," Dr. Jeff Sersland stated.

    Initially MUA had planned to oversee all emergency operations, but later decided that in order to allow the community to have a sense of responsibility for the system, it would be best to integrate the emergency service into an already existing infrastructure (fire and police emergency systems). The planning team also decided to appoint a board to oversee the operations. In order to have an unbiased board or one that equally serves each member of the community, the MUA team decided to include representatives from most sectors of the community, such as businesspeople, doctors, nurses, and health clinic personnel. "The school cannot support the emergency system by itself; it needs the support of the police department, fire department, local doctors and nurses. If even one of these entities does not participate, the system will not function effectively," Dr. Rene Sersland explained. Although there was significant initial support, as the project wore on, and "push came to shove" there were not as many organizations or individuals willing to assist. Therefore, MUA must accept full financial responsibility for the ambulance and the equipment contained inside, until donations are received.

    While part of the challenge to make the ambulance operational is a lack of hardware, the other problem is a need for a functioning centralized location to receive emergency calls. Discussions are underway between the San Pedro Police Department, the San Pedro Fire Department, local doctors and the MUA planning team to establish this location. Each member of the SP rescue team (Police Department, Fire Department, doctors, and emergency team) needs to be able to communicate with each other day or night, to send emergency assistance to 1) Assess the patient, 2) Determine the level of care, 3) Stabilize the patient until a doctor can examine them and, if the patient is in distress, 4) Transport the patient off the island using Wings of Hope or the British Royal Air Forces (RAF). Another challenge is locating the patients when there is an emergency call. Currently Mr. Remuzzi is studying and compiling maps provided by the Lands Department, Belize Electricity Limited, and Belize Water Services. This tracking system will soon be tested to ensure rapid location of an emergency caller.

    Once the logistical challenges have been met, there is still a lack of hardware. Although many organizations and individuals have pledged donations, MUA has not received any contributions to date. Even though Andrew Remuzzi and MUA have made equipment donations, the ambulance is not fully equipped.  It contains, two stretchers, oxygen & intravenous supplies, a PA (public address) system, warning/alert siren, and a citizen's band radio, but is still awaiting a much-needed heart monitor/defibrillator that can be used in case of heart attacks.

    MUA hopes to have the mock trials and the preliminary "first run" phase of the ambulance underway, in addition to an established emergency phone number (call center), and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) courses scheduled by the end of May. He also explained that they would like to setup the SPERS management system in accordance with BERT (Belize Emergency Response Team) in Belize City, with minimal charges to ensure that the ambulance and doctors are only called for real emergencies. From conversation with Andrew Remuzzi, The San Pedro Sun learned that non-emergency situations are the reason local physicians are "cautiously enthusiastic" when contacted for their support.

    Dr. Jeff Sersland is soliciting "any form of support, whether supplies or volunteer work" from the community to aid in these efforts to provide emergency assistance to the residents of and visitors to San Pedro.

    For further information on how you can offer support to the SP Emergency Rescue Service, please contact, Drs. Jeff and Rene Sersland, or Andrew Remuzzi at 226-3744.
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