The UCLA Department of Emergency Medicine’s Center for Prehospital Care is re-designing the behavioral health educational curricula for emergency medical services (EMS) professionals to better equip them with tools to address the growing number of 911 behavioral and psychiatric calls.
Paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who work for fire departments and ambulance companies are the first responders to 911 emergency calls throughout our communities. While behavioral and mental health is a small part of National EMS Education Standards, it represents a growing and significant portion of the call volume for EMS services. In Los Angeles County alone, a behavioral or psychiatric crisis is the second most frequent provider impression with over 60,000 responses from 911.
Given the number and complexity of behavioral health calls, the current education standards are insufficient in preparing students for real life behavioral health patient encounters. The provider-patient paradigm for care is entirely different on behavioral health calls and it is seldom the patient who makes the 911 call. Insufficient preparation for these challenges leads to EMT and paramedic stress, burnout, and turnover, and less than effective patient care, all of which is avoidable.
The goal of this innovative behavioral health curricula is to equip providers with a multitude of tools to reduce stress by slowing the pace of calls and assessing the situation so effective patient outcomes can be achieved.
Further, patients from marginalized groups are over represented among behavioral health patients. These patients face socioeconomic challenges in addition to the already significant clinical and stigma related challenges that all behavioral health patients face. By better serving behavioral health patients, we will create a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive healthcare environment.
Dr. David Filipp, Paramedic Program Director wants this effort to, “serve as a catalyst” among thought leaders in EMS, program directors and educators, behavioral health clinicians, local EMS governing agencies to better inform the care this population of patients receives. Dr. George Hatch, Executive Director of the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the EMS Professions, notes that in his 15-year history in this position he has not had a pilot project focused on behavioral health or psychiatric patients and welcomes this much needed evaluation focused on this vulnerable group of patients.
The results of this innovative pilot will transform the educational experience of the EMS workforce by increasing the preparation the workforce has with these patients, providing an evaluated roadmap for other EMT and paramedic programs to adopt, and sharing the results at national EMS meetings.
The Center for Prehospital Care, which is also part of the David Geffen School of Medicine, has partnered with two other key organizations to provide our students with focused behavioral health clinical experiences with licensed professionals. Exodus Recovery offers several psychiatric urgent care centers and crisis stabilization units throughout Los Angeles and the state, and will permit our students to rotate through an internship under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional. As the clinical work EMTs and paramedics perform in the community is out of a clinic and hospital, UCLA has also affiliated with the City of Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU) Division.
UCLA's programs are the largest programs in the State of California and boast some of the highest completion and licensing rates in the state. UCLA's EMT and Paramedic programs serve all the major EMS providers in Los Angeles County and the Southern California.
This evaluation project is funded by the CARESTAR Foundation, a philanthropic organization reimagining emergency and prehospital care in California to elevate community voice and power, build a movement, and be a catalyst for systems change. CARESTAR partners with innovators to enable strong and meaningful work transforming the field of emergency and prehospital care so all Californians can receive equitable, unified, and compassionate care where and when they need it.
Photo credit: UCLA Health