By Gabe Brison-Trezise
Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, May 28, 2015
(Published in print: Thursday, May 28, 2015)
Fairlee — Upper Valley Ambulance is getting a lift thanks to the Doty Belt, a device resembling a climbing harness that allows responders to more easily help up fallen patients
The ambulance service recently purchased three of the belts — one for each of its three active ambulances — and has used them on roughly half a dozen calls so far, according to Upper Valley Ambulance Executive Director Clay Odell. Improving both patient and responder safety inspired the decision to acquire the belts, he said.
In 2014, Upper Valley Ambulance received 62 calls for what it terms “lift assists ” out of 1,041 calls total, Odell said, adding that those numbers have been fairly consistent in recent years.
Nineteen of those calls were handled by largely volunteer FAST squads, or “first aid stabilization teams,” in the nine towns that subsidize the nonprofit ambulance service: Thetford, Fairlee, Strafford, Vershire, West Fairlee, Bradford and Corinth in Vermont and Orford and Piermont in New Hampshire. The ambulance service is based in Fairlee, where it shares a building on Lake Morey Road with the Fairlee Fire Department.
Odell considered the “small-ticket” Doty Belts, which cost $150 apiece, a worthy investment. Speaking about his roughly 20-person staff, he said, “I’ve got to make sure they’re healthy and not blowing out their backs, ending their career early.
“Back injuries are one of the biggest worries we have for our providers,” he said.
The Doty Belts include handles and leg straps intended to make lifting less strenuous for responders and more comfortable for patients. The previous approach of lifting under the arms was painful for patients, especially elderly ones, and unpleasant for providers assisting sweaty or incontinent patients, Odell said.
The challenge of assisting heavy patients also contributed to the choice to buy the belts.
Advanced EMT Chris Yaeger, of Piermont, said he had dealt with patients who weighed more than 400 pounds. Without the Doty Belt, “if they fall, you don’t have much to grab ahold of,” he said, noting that the belt’s four handles allow a steadier and safer lift.
Five or six people may be required to lift particularly heavy patients, he said. The ambulance service also carries extender straps it can use to expand the breadth of the Doty Belt harness for large patients.
Part-time Upper Valley Ambulance paramedic Mike Condon works as a full-time supervisor at an ambulance service in Bennington, Vt., which he said receives 6,000 calls a year.
“We don’t have Doty Belts, which would be really nice because we do a lot of lifting and picking up of people,” he said.
The Doty Belt is just the latest in a line of tools Upper Valley Ambulance has adopted to increase the safety and efficiency of its services. Among these are power stretchers: “push a button, up it goes, push a button, down it goes,” Condon said.
Another tool the nonprofit employs are chairs with tracking that allows them to go up and down stairs. “These are all really good backsavers,” Condon said.
Advanced EMT Ellen Putnam used the Doty Belt to assist a patient who had fallen to the floor and could not lift herself up.
“When three of us lifted, we were able to raise the patient to her chair without any difficulty,” Putnam wrote in an email. “(The Doty Belt) enabled us to accomplish the lift without straining our backs and without causing undue stress to our patient.”
The Doty Belt also lets patients adjust the leg straps, allowing them to find a comfortable position before being hoisted up, Odell noted.
Upper Valley Ambulance generally doesn’t bring in any revenue from lift assists, but it considers them one of the most essential services it provides the community.
“A lot of times there are folks who are in a wheelchair, and who are trying to get themselves over to the commode, and they slip and fall and then we go and we pick them back up,” Odell explained.
Lift-assist calls are subsidized by the ambulance service’s nine constituent towns as well as by other UVA services, such as interfacility transfers.
Upper Valley Ambulance is one of several operations that transfer patients from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to hospitals or rehab centers elsewhere.
“Being able to afford Doty Belts and fuel for the ambulances and everything is basically a lot of our billing through transfers,” Condon said.
Odell said he did not know of any other service in the region that used the Doty Belt.
Since it can take Upper Valley Ambulance 30 minutes to reach towns such as Strafford and Vershire, Odell is interested in promoting the belts with local FAST squads, which are often first to arrive on the scene of a call.
“It’s not high-tech, but it’s a pretty good device, I think,” he said.
Gabe Brison-Trezise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.