The next time you see a police car pulling up to the scene of an accident with lights flashing and sirens blaring, it might be a doctor who climbs out of the driver's seat.
"It's a completely free service to the community. There is no charge if and when I am there to assist," said Dr. Jeff Shafer, St. E's Emergency Medical Services director.
Soon, local physicians from HSHS St. Elizabeth's in O'Fallon will be able to respond directly to emergency locations in Shiloh and O'Fallon, thanks to the Shiloh Police Department's donation of a surplus vehicle.
Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier said the decision was an "easy one," because in a medical emergency, having a doctor on scene within minutes could be a game changer.
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"In the event of a major car accident pileup where someone may be possibly trapped or hurt, just like when the (residential) deck collapsed in O'Fallon recently, this could hopefully save somebody's life. It's a worthy cause," Vernier said.
Shiloh police Chief Rich Wittenauer said the car will enable physicians to respond directly to an emergency scene with a fully stocked vehicle.
"This will improve the care of critically ill or injured citizens. I believe the benefit to the community outweighs any monetary value we would have received at auction," Wittenauer said.
Vernier said that Shafer had reached out to village officials in March about the program's need for a vehicle, and "we all thought it would be a great idea."
At the Shiloh Village Board meeting on May 7, trustees unanimously approved the donation of a 2011 Ford Crown Victoria, a surplus police vehicle that has just over 150,000 miles on it.
Vernier noted that in the past surplus vehicles garner "maybe a few thousand dollars at most in online auctions."
"So helping the hospital seemed more beneficial in the long run," he said.
Right now, Shiloh is the only Police Department to donate to the program, as it was the only one asked, Shafer said.
"This generous donation allows the program to proceed immediately. I anticipate that this donation will prove to the community and other health care providers the value of pre-hospital physician oversight and treatment," Shafer said.
Patti Fischer, new president and CEO of St. E's, said the hospital is "greatly committed to providing quality patient care within our walls and with the addition of this program we extend care into the field to be side by side with our EMS agency partners."
“We thank the Shiloh Police Department for donating the vehicle and look forward to the program making a positive impact on the health care and lives of those in our communities who we serve,” Fischer said.
No state, federal or grant funding is needed to lift this program off the ground, Shafer said.
"We are in the process of acquiring the rest of the necessary supplies, which will be paid for by St. Elizabeth’s Hospital," he said.
Following that, the vehicle must be inspected and license approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health before it can be put in the field, which Shafer anticipates to be complete by the end of this summer.
"This allows us to legally respond with lights and sirens to a scene," Shafer said.
If you're outside of the Shiloh or O'Fallon emergency dispatch response area, Shafer advises people to remain patient.
"Initially, the vehicle will primarily be used for response in the O’Fallon and Shiloh areas, but that is subject to change as we expand our EMS outreach and grow the program," Shafer said.
In Europe, physicians routinely respond to emergency calls, but it's not as common in America, Shafer said.
"I know that the program will prosper, and I hope that it will possibly expand to other hospitals within the HSHS Southern Illinois Division. Our focus is entirely on providing the sick and injured patient the best evidence-based treatment prior to hospital arrival, regardless of the nature of the incident, location, demographics, or hospital of choice," Shafer said.
The vehicle can and will be used to respond to all types of 911 calls, Shafer said.
"I will focus my attention on incidents where there is significant risk of health — potentially critically ill or injured patients, structure fires and vehicle accidents — but I will certainly be attending to less critical patients as well, as time allows," Shafer said.
In April, St. E's was recognized as a Region 4 EMS System Resource Hospital by IDPH.
"St. Elizabeth’s strives to provide quality care and grow services that can positively impact patients in our region," Shafer said.
Career rooted in EMS
When he was 18 years old, Shafer started his career in EMS working for Abbott Lifeforce.
"My senior year of college at St. Louis University, I took a separate full load at Southwestern Illinois College to obtain my paramedic's license," Shafer said.
It was then that he began working for O'Fallon-Shiloh EMS, initially as an EMT, then graduated up to paramedic in 2000.
"I continued to focus on EMS throughout my four-year residence in emergency medicine at Washington University/Barnes Hospital/St. Louis Children's Hospital," Shafer said.
But then, he completed a one-year fellowship in EMS at Wash U, which involved learning best practices for providing medical direction to all pre-hospital care providers, he said.
"Though I am not the only physician in the metro-east (who is) board certified in both emergency medicine and EMS, I am the only one with fellowship training," Shafer said.
He's been active on the EMS path with an emphasis in education ever since, he said.
"I have always missed my time in the field. Every dedicated EMS physician dreams of having such a vehicle that will allow me to supervise and assist at the scene of emergencies — we now have the perfect setup to make this happen," Shafer said.