Merced County Times Newspaper
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Fire Dept. to upgrade emergency care

Merced Fire Chief Derek Parker speaks with Rotarians about the HEART Car project that aims to improve resident’s health outcomes during a meeting inside of Paul’s Place diner. 
Merced Fire Chief Derek Parker speaks with Rotarians about the HEART Car project that aims to improve resident’s health outcomes during a meeting inside of Paul’s Place diner.

Merced Fire Chief Derek Parker joined members of the Merced Sunrise Rotary at Paul’s Place for a recent meeting. Chief Parker spoke with members as part of a special presentation where he detailed some of the current difficulties facing emergency medical services in Merced, and his proposed Health Education, Assistance and Referral Team Car — or HEART Car project — that he is spearheading to help solve it.

Parker highlighted the benefit of acquiring new Electrocardiography (EKG) monitors from the Stryker Corporation. The department wants to secure two of the monitors, which come with a price tag of $60,000, with future plans to have up to eight. The monitors would be placed in a number of fire engines and fire ambulances.

“We have a problem,” Parker told Rotarians. “One of the problems is that there are long [ambulance] wait times at the hospital. But we have an opportunity to improve the ‘throughput’.”

To help alleviate this problem and improve the medical services it offers to residents, the Merced Fire Department is planning to bring on two additional ambulances and an SUV to help respond to emergencies. These vehicles will be outfitted with EKG monitors. The mobile units would also allow for an electronic chart to be established while en route to the hospital, facilitating a quicker exchange of information between the department’s paramedics and Emergency Room staff at Mercy Medical Center.

“What it does is it saves time for the firefighters that are out there providing care,” Parker said. “They can put the blood pressure cuff on, they can connect the pulse oximeter, and then they can transmit that data to the patients chart for the doctor. The more steps that we have that are taken care of like this, the more efficient the firefighter providing care can be.”

The Merced Fire Department responds to many medical calls on a daily basis. A number of firefighters are cross-trained to render medical aid. Oftentimes, the department’s trained team will be the first responders to arrive on the scene of an emergency.

Parker was clear, however, that the services and quality of care offered by the local hospital was not lacking, but rather was simply the recipient of a growing number of patients.

“The hospital is overwhelmed,” he said. “I think they’re trying the best that they can, with the best that they have, but the closing of the Madera hospital is not helping,” said Parker. “It’s nothing against the hospital, but it’s up against a wall, but that’s where there is a good opportunity to improve the throughput at the hospital.”

Parker cited that a contributing factor is the increasingly large service area that Mercy Medical Center is handling. As hospitals in surrounding cities are consolidated, downsized, or outright closed, Mercy Medical Center has continued to care for patients that come their way.

Residents arriving via ambulance can find themselves waiting in the ambulance for some time before a bed is able to be found for them. Parker referred to this wait time as “wall times.” While that ambulance is at the hospital, its team is unable to respond to incoming emergency calls, resulting in other emergency personnel, such as the Merced Fire Department, being called to the scene.

“And that can be hours at a time,” Parker explained. “You can be waiting up to four or five hours to get the patient off of your bed and onto their’s,” said Parker. “Because of the wall times, the ambulance looks back and tells us we can’t make it to your call, we’re stuck at the hospital.”

Recently, according to Parker, firefighters responded to a resident who had broken their leg. They administered what care they could, but were forced to wait alongside of the patient for two hours until an ambulance was able to arrive.

Complicating the matter is that most patients are going to be taken to the nearest hospital, which is likely Mercy Medical Center. In other words, ambulance drivers are not able to out the load of patients with the next closest hospital. Even in instances where an ambulance is driving to one of the neighboring hospitals, Parker notes that it is still one less ambulance serving the area while it is in transit. Similarly, if a patient arrives at Mercy Medical Center but needs to be transported to another area hospital, the process often involves helicopters. In certain weather conditions; however, including those just faced by the area from the recent storms, helicopter transport may not be available, necessitating a long ambulance ride by ground.

“So what do you do when the ambulances are already busy and can’t take those patients? Well I can think of one organization that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and never takes a day off,” Parker said. “That’s the Fire Department. … With the addition of these monitors, we can set up for critical care. We want to provide better patient outcomes.”

Parker also has another use in mind to help alleviate some of the pressure on Mercy Medical Center and open up beds. By preemptively heading out into the community for two to three hours a week, initially to help those in need, Parker sees the ability to keep many people from taking the trip to the hospital in the first place.

“We know we can’t do it alone and our service area is very big, and we’re working with Mercy Hospital to have a good plan moving forward,” he said. “We’re looking to provide personnel to go out and make assessments on some of the unhoused and unfortunate.”

Chief Parker said the new program’s name would be the Health Education, Assistance and Referral Team Car — or HEART Car.

“We’re looking to change the face of emergency healthcare in this community,” Parker said. “That’s our program, that’s our goal, and we can’t do this without everyone’s support.”

Additionally, Parker has begun talks with local colleges to gauge interest in creating a paramedics program to help serve the local and surrounding area with medical expertise. “This is a great place for a paramedic program. There’s not a paramedic program from West Hills College to Livermore or West Sacramento,” he explained.

If you are interested in supporting the Fire Department’s plan to improve emergency medical services, reach out to the Merced Sunrise Rotary’s fundraising leadership team. For more information, visit online at:

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