BENNINGTON>> Nationally, it takes a heart attack patient an average of 110 to 120 minutes to reach a cardiology center.
But EMTs with the Bennington Rescue Squad can transfer patients in less time.
It's an achievement attributed to new protocols which allow EMTs to administer critical tests in an ambulance, bypassing the local hospital to bring cardiac patients directly to a major cardiology center.
The ambulance service was honored Friday by the American Heart Association's Mission: Lifeline. It's the first such company in Vermont to receive the Silver Recognition Award for meeting the program's benchmark, according to Tatum Weishaupt, director for the program's capital region branch. The goal, she said, is for cardiac patients to receive a balloon or clot reliever (cardiac catheterization) in fewer than 90 minutes after first contact with EMS.
Rescue Squad Executive Director Forest Weyen said that, despite Bennington's rural location, the squad has either met or exceeded that goal 80 percent of the time.
"I've worked in places less rural than this and we haven't met these times," he said.
"Time is of the essence" during a severe heart attack, Weyen said, when a clot forms in the coronary artery and blocks part or all of it, a condition called STEMI (ST elevation myocardial infarction).
"The sooner the blockage is removed from the artery, the more likely vital heart muscle can be saved and risks of death and disability are reduced," he said.
Scott W. Rogge, medical director of cardiology at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, said cardiac patients were formerly flown by helicopter to the nearest cardiology center at Samaritan Hospital in Troy, N.Y. Given the time it took for a patient to be brought through the emergency department for evaluation, the hospital wasn't meeting the 120 minute goal. Weyen said changes at the state level led to the development of a new local protocol. Since 2013, the state EMS office has permitted EMTs to administer an ECG (electrocardiogram), a vital test previously reserved for nurses, physicians and paramedics. A 12-lead ECG takes "pictures" of the heart, rescue squad Operations Manager Bill Camarda explained, and can determine if someone is having a cardiac event.
Weyen said the new protocol was developed in cooperation between the EMS District 12, SVMC and Daniel Perregaux, the hospital's medical director for emergency medicine.
Rescue squad EMTs now administer ECGs to patients experiencing chest pains in the ambulance, without ever having to bring the patient to SVMC. Samaritan's cardiac center is notified of the ECG and the results are sent there to have its diagnosis confirmed. If in the affirmative, the catheterization lab is prepped for the patient's arrival.
Medical professionals attested the new protocol means cardiac patients can get life-saving treatment at an advanced cardiology unit faster than before.
Cyrus Ferri, nurse manager of the cardiac lab at Samartian, recounted one real life scenario from last October. From the time that Bennington Rescue first made contact with the patient to the time the artery was open and the attack had stopped, just 66 minutes had passed.
"These are amazing times," Ferri said.
"It's saved lives, it's saved heart function. I think it's worked out better than any of us could've imagined," Rogge said.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979