July 17, 2013

Special needs focus of EMT training


— PLATTSBURGH — Emergency medical technicians across the region have a unique opportunity to gain knowledge on how to respond to patients with special needs.

The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and the Clinton County Emergency Medical Services Association have been providing annual training for EMTs on how to work with patients with special needs, a program that has brought a fresh perspective to the region’s emergency responders.

“It’s an idea I had when I first started riding on ambulances,” said Kent Faus, vice president for Clinton County Emergency Medical Services.

He came to realize, he said, that “a lot of people didn’t feel comfortable when on calls for people with special medical challenges. 

“It can be an intimidating situation if you’re not comfortable (dealing with patients with a physical or mental disability).”


Faus had an uncle with a mental disability, a normal guy, he said, with some special needs. When his uncle died in October 2008, the emergency responder took that as a sign to move his idea forward to offer special training on how to care for patients who might require a different kind of approach because of their own conditions.

“EMTs don’t do a lot of training on how to work with patients with special needs,” he said. “We do a whole lot of things with cardiac care, with trauma cases and with certain kinds of disease, but there isn’t a lot of focus on (traumatic brain injury), Alzheimer’s disease or autism.”

Clinton County EMS held its first Special Needs Conference in January 2009, with presentations on working with ARC and Alzheimer’s patients, those with autism-spectrum disorders, along with information on some of the new technologies available at the time for diabetics.

Several dozen EMTs participated in that initial workshop, held at the county’s EMS offices, but the program has grown tremendously since then.

It has moved to the more spacious Keeseville Fire Station and attracts EMT staff from as far away as Montreal, Schroon Lake and Bangor in Franklin County.

“Each conference has several different topics relevant to patients with special needs,” Faus said. “The presenters have all been local, and they’ve been experts in their specific fields.


For instance, Dr. Laurie Whittaker, director of the Fletcher Allen Cystic Fibrosis Center, attended one session to discuss cystic fibrosis, and Dr. Edward Hixon from the Saranac Lake Bariatric Center offered a presentation on people who have had that surgery.

Patients receiving hospice care, who have prosthetics and victims of domestic violence were also highlighted in topics during annual conferences.

“For first responders, these conferences provide them with continuing education that is needed in their development as professionals,” Faus said. 

“It has been very beneficial for the region’s emergency-medical services.”

For instance, patients with autism will respond differently to the arrival of medical staff than others might. The loud sounds and aggressive movements of staff can have trigger a negative reaction, he said.

Also, people with Alzheimer’s disease have a very independent response to emergency medical staff and need a unique approach.

“We need to introduce ourselves and make them feel more comfortable with us before we start asking a bunch of medical questions,” Faus said. 

“Emergency responders are used to going to a scene and jumping right into the action. With these patients, we need to take a little step back.”


Faus estimates that nearly every EMS agency and fire department in the region has attended at least one of the conferences.

“Many of the responders stay after the lectures to share with each other their experiences (in dealing with patients with special needs),” Faus said. 

“As a group, we are much more comfortable dealing with these kinds of situations.”

An official schedule for the January 2014 conference is not yet finalized, but organizers are already preparing a list of topics that will add to the various situations they’ve learned about during the last several workshops.

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