Oklahoma's Emergency Medical Services Authority is top-notch, according to a national accreditation group

Heart attacks, a leading cause of death for men and women worldwide, usually start with acute chest pain radiating to the left side of a person's neck or side, and can include sweating, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and anxiety. If untreated for a long enough time, a heart attack causes death of heart muscle tissue, which in turn could lead to those affected unexpectedly taking their final dirt nap.

Fortunately, through the efforts of the Oklahoma Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA), Central Oklahoma residents are far less likely than people living elsewhere in the U.S. to go into the fertilizer business.

"Oklahoma City is one of the safest places in the nation to have a heart attack," said Lara O'Leary, EMSA's public information officer in Oklahoma City. "We ranked third in the nation in a 2005 study of people who survived a heart attack and walked out of the hospital."

EMSA's high cardiac patient survival rate received national and international attention as the result of the study, commissioned by USA Today and cited by O'Leary.

"Oklahoma City is a very complicated and vast service area, and we meet and beat our response time criteria of 8 minutes and 59 seconds by responding in an average of around 5 minutes," O'Leary said. "In the outlying areas, (this) is a feat in itself, and one of our great accomplishments because time is critical and every second matters."

In August, Oklahoma EMSA became one of only 159 emergency medical services to be accredited by the national Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS).

In addition to being granted accreditation, EMSA, which operates more than 80 ambulances in 16 communities in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas, also got a perfect score under CAAS' wide-ranging criteria used to measure the effectiveness of emergency medical services.

"The crux of the accreditation process is they're looking at your standards of patient care," said Kelli Bruer, EMSA's director of communications and public relations. "They're looking at everything from your relationships with outside agencies, how well you're working with your medical community, the financial management, disaster planning and your training systems and safety. So it's a very comprehensive, big view."

Prior to a two-day visit to Oklahoma in August, the CAAS accreditation team pored over thousands of pages of documents, assembled by a group of more than 20 EMSA employees over the course of a year, that describe all aspects of EMSA's operations.

"We sent them more than 3,000 pages, plus five policy and procedure manuals," said Jeannie Sacra, EMSA's director of business development, who coordinated assembly of the package.

In fact, CAAS officials were so impressed by EMSA's application, Sacra said, the group has adopted it as a teaching tool in seminars to be conducted for other emergency medicine agencies seeking accreditation.

Chris Stevens, EMSA's Tulsa-based public information officer, cited EMSA CEO Steve Williamson's insistence on the purchase and use of top-notch equipment, and the agency's ongoing employee refresher courses, as important factors in receiving CAAS accreditation.

"We have the best equipment, we have the best trucks and we have the best cardiac monitors because Steve Williamson absolutely insists on the best of everything," Stevens said. "Our employees are mandated to go through refresher classes every two years, and the company makes sure that the employees are compliant with the latest, greatest technologies." "C.G. Niebank

photo Paramedic John Graham works with a cardiac drug kit, part of the "Life Net" supplies and equipment each EMSA transport unit rolls with. Photo/Mark Hancock

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