Monday, December 05, 2016

Lack of regulations and training lead to 4,500 ambulance accidents, 33 deaths per year

A lack of regulations for ambulance-driver training and restraints for passengers has for years led to accidents, injuries, and sometimes death, Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline. Over the last 20 years ambulances have been involved in an annual average of 4,500 accidents, leading to about 2,600 injuries and 33 deaths, according to a 2015 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. About 54,500 ambulances were on the road in 2010, the latest figure available, says NHTSA.

The study found that only 33 percent of patients involved in serious crashes "were secured with both shoulder and lap restraints and 44 percent were ejected from their cots," Bergal writes. At the same time "84 percent of EMS workers in the patient compartments of ambulances that crashed were not using their own restraints."

The main problem is that "unlike school buses, ambulances are not regulated by the federal government," Bergal writes. "While states set minimum standards for how they operate, it’s usually up to local EMS agencies or fire departments to purchase the vehicles and decide whether to require their crew to undergo more stringent education and training. Some agencies demand that crew members in the back of an ambulance use lap and shoulder restraints for their patients and themselves, but many agencies don’t." (NHTSA graphic: Severity of injuries involving ambulances from 1992-2011)
"In some places, ambulance drivers don’t receive any special training before they get behind the wheel, even though they must speed through traffic under tremendous pressure," Bergal writes. Bruce Cheeseman, Idaho’s EMS operations manager, told her, “One agency will make them take a course before they can drive. Another will just say, ‘here are the keys.'" Many rural areas are served by volunteer EMS workers.

Bergal writes, "In the back of a traditional ambulance, which has no airbags, emergency medical technicians and paramedics can sit on one of several seats: a bench that is aligned with the stretcher or cot and faces the patient, a seat on the opposite side, or a rear-facing seat called the captain’s chair, which is in front of the patient’s head. A 5- to 8-ton ambulance filled with heavy equipment can become a deathtrap in a crash. Cots typically are not bolted to the floor. Electrocardiogram monitors, which can weigh 20 to 25 pounds, usually are not tied down, and medical equipment is often stored on countertops or in cabinets that can fly open."

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