Sussex County EMS earns first-ever national accreditation

In one of Sussex County EMS community outreach initiatives, paramedic Anna West demonstrates hands-on chest compressions for youngsters at Georgetown’s Wings & Wheels festival. (File photo)

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County’s highly acclaimed Emergency Medical Services program has garnered the national spotlight.

For the first time, Sussex County EMS has earned national accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services — one of the highest marks a pre-hospital EMS service can receive when evaluating its operations and the level of service it provides to patients.

The accreditation marks only the second advanced life support system in Delaware to earn such a distinction. It recognizes that Sussex County EMS meets or exceeds nationally accepted high standards for patient care in the industry.

Sussex County EMS was notified of the award in late December and it was recognized publicly at the Jan. 7 Sussex County Council meeting.

Robert Stuart

“It has been a long time coming, but we have received national accreditation,” said Sussex County EMS Director Robert Stuart.

Based in Glenview, Illinois, CAAS is an independent commission established in 1990 to set a comprehensive series of standards for the ambulance-service industry.

The “Gold Standards” often exceed state or local regulations and focus on all aspects of ambulance operations. Standards are designed to increase operational efficiency and clinical quality while decreasing risk and liability to organizations helping to ensure superior patient care, according to the commission.

With more than 20,000 EMS agencies in the United States alone, fewer than 200 agencies in North America currently hold CAAS accreditation.

For this inaugural accreditation, Sussex County EMS received a perfect score on the on-site evaluation.

“Our dedication to ensuring that we fulfill our motto of “Caring People, Quality Service” was the key to achieving accreditation,” Mr. Stuart said. “SCEMS is proud that the Commission recognized our commitment to service excellence.”

Re-accreditation by CAAS is required every three years and consists of a comprehensive self-assessment, application and on-site evaluation by industry experts, who verify compliance in clinical standards, operations and risk management, communications, equipment, facilities, as well as community relations and disaster management coordination.

“In three years, we will go through the process again,” said Rob Mauch, Sussex County EMS manager of quality and standards who was the accreditation project manager. “They want to make sure we are maintaining our standards. They want to make sure we are elevating our game. Over time the standards will change, and standards will probably get stricter. So, we will revisit this in three years, and we will be successful in three years.”

Sussex County EMS is a nationally accredited, county-operated department that augments the local volunteer fire/ambulance service by providing 24-hour-a-day advance life support care to all of Sussex with 10 full-time paramedic units, 99 field paramedics and 17 administrative support staff.

More than a decade ago, Sussex County expressed initial interest in accreditation, but did not qualify for consideration at that time.

“A dozen years or so, we contacted CAAS because our fellows in the north, New Castle County were looking to get accredited,” said Mr. Stuart. “Unfortunately, at time we did not have any ambulances, where New Castle County did, and they (CAAS) only accredited services that had ambulances.”

“When they relaxed the restriction a few years ago we began to ramp up our efforts. We feel like all along we’ve been operating at a high standard,” he said.

In addition to CAAS accreditation, Sussex County EMS has earned numerous awards and accolades over the years, including several gold, silver and bronze medals at the annual Journal of Emergency Medical Services games, an international competition.

Recently, Sussex EMS received the American Heart Association’s Mission Lifeline Gold Plus award for excellence in STEMI (heart attack) care.

Sussex County Council President Michael H. Vincent congratulated the department on earning its first-ever accreditation, a testament to the hard work of countless dedicated professionals who have worked tirelessly since Sussex County EMS’ founding in 1990.

“This is a tremendous achievement that we, and all of the citizens of Sussex County, should be immensely proud of,” Mr. Vincent said. “We all knew that ours was among the best emergency medical care systems in Delaware, the region, and across the nation. Now, we have independent proof that this is some of the best care that taxpayer dollars can buy.”

“We all realize it involves everybody, from the newest medic you’ve got to the senior person,” Mr. Vincent said. “You’ve done a great job.”