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The new heart monitors will allow the EMS squads and the local hospital respond faster to calls. 

Newly updated medical monitoring equipment has replaced the decade-old heart monitors used by emergency medical services in the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County area. The new monitors aim to decrease the rescue squad’s response time to heart attacks — an issue that’s exacerbated by Rockingham County’s remote population. 

The emergency medical service monitoring equipment was needed to replace monitors that reportedly were failing to function properly in the field, with reports of inaccurate readings and non-functional screens. EMS monitors are crucial to the emergency medical response to heart attacks; they allow emergency medical technicians to measure the patient’s vitals, track symptoms to report remotely to the ER and perform an electrocardiogram, or an EKG.

“Think about just how much your phone has changed over the years,” Stan Holland, director of the CardioVascular Service Line at Sentara RMH, said. “The field is rapidly exploding in terms of telehealth and communications.”

Holland said that cardiac event response time is graded by the expectation that it takes less than 90 minutes to get from the ER door to when a catheter with a balloon is in the patient’s blocked heart artery. Sentara RMH consistently takes 50-53 minutes. In a recent study conducted by Sentara, the researchers determined that the critical response time takes 23 minutes less when the field alerts the ER first, making the new monitors essential. 

Eight years ago, Sentara RMH invested approximately $600,000 in the initial supply of monitors. With some already failing, and service on current monitors ending in 2020, the decision was made to purchase all new equipment from Zoll, the standard provider for emergency response and hospital medical equipment. 

For the emergency room staff at Sentara RMH, the new monitors mean doctors will be able to respond to heart patients more efficiently and effectively. The monitors can transmit findings to the hospital during transit, enabling clinicians at the hospital to be informed and ready to treat the patient. 

Regular technological updates are difficult and expensive in the medical field because technical advances happen at an accelerated rate. But once the RMH Foundation was made aware of the need, they organized funds through donors and donations made to the foundation when merging with Sentara in May 2011. $42,363 came from last year’s Hope Field sunflower event. The final purchase cost was $644,888 for 53 monitors to be distributed to the rescue squads in the area.

The process took about a year from when rescue squads brought the issue forward to putting the new equipment in their hands three weeks ago. It hasn’t been fully implemented, as the rescue squads that recently received the new monitors still require familiarity training with the new equipment. Cory Davies, executive director of the RMH Foundation, is optimistic that they’ll show a marked improvement in response time. 

“With how geographically dispersed our service area is, how hard it is for some people to get here, we need to work that much harder to bring care to people and to make it as accessible as possible,” Davies said. 

Sentara RMH serves an expansive geographic area, and consequently, transportation is a serious concern for patients. The more time it takes for EMS to transport patients to the hospital, the more damage is done to the heart muscle as each minute elapses. Those crucial minutes can be the difference between the heart attack being fatal or not, both Davies and Holland said. 

“The county rescue squad approached us with the need that they had, and it made perfect sense for our board to want to support it because if people are well-cared for out in the field, so to speak, that means that they arrive at the ER ready to be treated,” Davies said. “We’ll have a better outcome.”

One Rockingham County rescue squad has already seen a marked improvement with the new monitors, Davies said. In Grottoes, the EMS team received the new monitors a year ago and ran a trial to see if they made a significant impact. 

Jeremy Wampler, the Grottoes Rescue Squad training officer, was instrumental in bringing the issue of the old monitors forward to Sentara RMH and the RMH Foundation. The squad needed new monitors in 2017 and found the Zoll X series to be the best fit. 

In addition to more accurate readings in the field, the new equipment provides real-time CPR advice on the scene and collects data in the field for improving emergency care. Importantly, the Zoll monitors will be compatible with hospital cardiac monitors and equipment also made by the Zoll provider to make a smoother transition from the rescue squads to the hospital’s care. 

They paid for the monitors with a grant from the Virginia Department of Health — called the Rescue Squad Assistance Fund — and through independent fundraising. In December 2017, the Grottoes team began to advocate replacing the entirety of Rockingham County’s monitors with the Zoll X series. 

“For patients who are actually suffering from a heart attack, that early notification is key,” Wampler said. 

Emergency responders and doctors are certain that the new cardiac monitors will have a positive impact on emergency medicine in the area and ensure that Harrisonburg and Rockingham residents have access to medical care no matter their location, Davies and Holland both said. 

“Our mission is really to extend good health to people both inside and outside the four walls of the hospital,” Davies said. 

Contact Jamie McEachin at mceachja@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.