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Delivering Quality Emergency Services to Vulnerable Populations

The Vulnerable Population Strategic Initiative is working to ensure that all King County, Washington residents receive the best possible emergency medical services regardless of race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, culture, gender, or language spoken.

The Vulnerable Population Strategic Initiative is working to ensure that all King County, Washington residents receive the best possible emergency medical services regardless of race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, culture, gender, or language spoken.

July 22, 2014

In King County, Washington, as in other large metropolitan areas, there are significant disparities associated with access to emergency medical services (EMS). These differences are related to socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and other demographic factors. The county’s new Vulnerable Population Strategic Initiative (VPSI) will apply and build on findings from research conducted at NWCPHP to ensure that all residents receive the best possible emergency medical services.

VPSI focuses on each of the three components of EMS: dispatch service, on-scene service, and after-care community service. The initiative will conduct needs assessments with EMS providers and local populations, identify and implement pilot interventions, and evaluate the results.Technological, training, and outreach interventions will be designed to improve 911 communication and use of interpreter services, and to reduce reliance on acute care services for non-medical situations by connecting patients with related social services.

The initiative aims to develop close relationships between EMS agencies, community-based organizations, the health department, and the University of Washington by engaging students in service learning. The agencies get assistance conducting needs assessment and outreach activities, and the students get experience with trained public health professionals in the community.

Michele Plorde, Deputy Director of EMS at Public Health - Seattle & King County said, "This initiative offers a unique opportunity for the EMS Division to collaborate with a broad-based cross-section of partners. We think this will result in better analysis of the issues, and ultimately, better outcomes for our vulnerable patients."

The initiative is also using several strategies to increase the diversity and cultural competence of the EMS workforce. Targeted neighborhood efforts have successfully recruited individuals from diverse populations into an EMT training program, and a needs assessment with health care organizations will identify employment opportunities for trainees. The EMS workforce will also participate in cultural competency training.

The VPSI is a promising model for what can be accomplished on a systems level to improve services to vulnerable populations by building partnerships and applying research evidence to practice.

"If the initiative works, it will be a beautiful example of a community relying on its own internal resources to do good," said Hendrika Meischke, PhD, MPH, NWCPHP faculty member and University of Washington professor.

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