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EMS Always on the Go!

Catching up with team members of the San Luis Valley Health (SLVH) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) can be a challenge, as it seems like they are constantly coming and going. Mike Valdez and Kim Jordan are two of the 12 Paramedics at SLV Health. Their team also consists of four Intermediate EMTs, two EMTs, and is directed by Darrick Garcia, BSN. One of the first questions they addressed was the difference between these three different job titles. The difference lies in their level of education and training and what that allows them to do when called out as a first responder. The first level, of Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), allows them to drive the ambulance, perform basic airway maneuvers, CPR and operate an AED. They can splint, control bleeding and assist with some home medications. The Intermediate EMT has increased cardiology and pharmacological intervention capabilities and can start IVs. A Paramedic can give more intensive airway and cardiology maneuvers along with classes of medications. Paramedic education includes much more science, special and additional training, and allows for more risk in their performance as a practitioner. Paramedics do not need to consult directly with doctors before providing life and death procedures.

In the San Luis Valley, there are different EMS or Ambulance services, some of whom operate with volunteers who get reimbursed for the time they spend on calls. At SLV Health, the staff is paid full time with benefits and operates with a minimum of a team of two, with one crew on call and a third on standby.

Mike received his Paramedic education from the San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico. “I was destined to become an EMT due to the fact that both of my parents are EMTs,” he commented. “After graduating from Pagosa Springs high school, I went to culinary school and lived on the east coast. When I returned to Pagosa, I knew I wanted to be a first responder and worked as a firefighter, where I also got my EMT training.” When Mike moved to Alamosa in 2018, he retired from the fire department and started at SLV Health, eventually completing his certification as a Paramedic. One of the stories that sticks with Mike was responding to a call on the Ute reservation for a six-year-old boy who was in cardiac arrest. The young patient “coded” several times, eventually spending over six weeks at Children’s hospital. The young patient was able to attend a banquet a year later and thank Mike and his team firsthand for saving his life.

Kim jokingly said that one of her first jobs as a pizza delivery person helped her get to know her way around Alamosa. As an AHS alum, she started out as a physical therapy tech, lived in Seattle, and then moved back to the valley with her family. When she was nine months pregnant with her fourth child, there was an opportunity to join an accelerated Paramedic certification program taught by St. Anthony’s, Denver, at the Alamosa campus. She ended up bringing along her 2-day old to class and they graduated together as certified Paramedics! “Every day we get an opportunity to make a positive impact with the visitors and citizens of our community,” commented Kim. She recalled a memorable incident when she and her partner Kyle were responding to a deadly accident east of Alamosa. “We knew it wasn’t going to be good because one fatality was already reported. When we arrived, we were able to stabilize and transport a mother and her two-year-old, both had been ejected. They were flown out and we did not know what the outcome was until two months later when they came to visit us at the hospital and brought us thank-you cards. We put all of our newly learned skills to work that day!”

The other members of the SLVH EMS team are Jason McGinnis, Mike Marical, Kyle Crawford, Shannon Uran, Lotoya Ocana, Jocelyn Comstock, Adam Daniels, Nelson Vialpando, Teyler Hurst, Ashliegh Taylor, Caitlyn Morgan, Gary Stieduhar, Reyna Martinez, Bob Cook, and Craig Worth.

Being part of a team of first responders takes a certain type of individual. Both Valdez and Jordan expressed their appreciation for the support at SLV Health, because stress and PTSD are real, and working in a situation where you don’t know what or who you will be dealing with is challenging. The job is taxing, as Mike put it, and there are always opportunities to develop new skills. Kim recalled that suicide prevention training was especially helpful to her. “We are always learning,” she said. And, they are always on the go. The interview was interrupted for a 911 call and they were up from their chairs and out the door before the message was repeated on their radio.