By Audrey Fraizer
A bite that pinched like a bee sting put a quick end to an otherwise good day in the desert for Gene Schutzler, his wife, son, brother-in-law, and their involuntary guest.
The Schutzlers were in Oregon’s high desert in October 2010 when a bite on Gene’s lower leg caught his immediate attention. Lifting his pant leg, he not only noticed a fresh set of puncture marks on his inner calf, but also a well camouflaged reptile slithering out of his way.
Gene had his answer in the first and last glimpse he saw of the reclusive spotted rattlesnake, no doubt sulking from the unplanned point of contact.
Gene radioed his wife Ginny, whose first reaction was to hit a red button in their General Motors (GM) truck. She was dubious about a reply; after all, there was no reception for cell phones in this wilderness so why should it be any different for a button pushed to alert an OnStar advisor hundreds of miles away at an OnStar call center?
That was the second surprise for the Schutzlers that afternoon.
OnStar Emergency Advisor Lynn Piper immediately answered their alert, used GPS coordinates to pinpoint their location, contacted police, and patched them into emergency medical care.
A second OnStar Emergency Advisor, Lee-Ann Troughton, gave Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs) from Protocol 2: Allergies (Reactions)/Envenomations (Stings, Bites), telling him to remain as calm as possible, to keep the wound below the heart, and to avoid movement that would increase the heart rate and, consequently, hasten the speed of venom moving through the bloodstream.
Piper called the PSAP and assisted a medical helicopter service with locating the scene while Troughton stayed on line with the Schutzlers the whole time until Gene was loaded into the helicopter and rushed to a trauma center in Boise, Idaho. He survived.
Safe to say the Schutzlers will never leave home without OnStar.
“Serious things happen all the time to people away from home and without immediate access to medical help,” said Amy Shiemke, Emergency Services Business Performance Leader for OnStar. “That’s why we decided to go with protocols that could provide the victim with medical assistance on-the-spot while waiting for help to arrive on scene.”
OnStar is a vehicle connection technology standard in most GM vehicles. Built-in controls provide access to advisors at any time, 24 hours a day, for services that include automatic crash response, stolen vehicle assistance, and emergency medical help from EMD certified advisors using the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS).
OnStar launched MPDS and the First Assist Service in May 2010; in 2013, OnStar became the first non-emergency, private company to achieve International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) status.
Because of its unique structure, the Academy’s 20 Points of Accreditation were slightly revised although certainly not diluted, according to IAED Associate Director Carlynn Page.
For example, since OnStar does not staff actual field personnel, Point 11: Implementation and/or maintenance of MPDS dispatch case feedback methodology for PSAPs omits the MPDS field personnel orientation process. Points 14, 15, and 16 were modified to reflect the clients OnStar serves and the process the company uses to determine appropriate jurisdictions.
Page also said ACE was part of the plan for OnStar from the start.
“The Academy and OnStar thought it was important for them to provide the highest standard possible,” she said. “They started the process at the time of implementation.”
The OnStar process
OnStar emergency advisors ask Key and Case Entry Questions and provide potentially life-saving PAIs at the subscriber’s push of the red OnStar button inside the vehicle. The signal connects the caller to one of two OnStar emergency centers: one in Charlotte, N.C., and the other in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. The almost 100 EMD certified OnStar emergency advisors answer, on average, 1,200 emergency medical calls each month.
OnStar emergency advisors complete a four- to six-week emergency course, EMD training and certification, and additional OnStar-specific process training. Most of the calls are for traffic and transportation incidents, while about 10% are calls for medical problems like chest pain, breathing problems, unconscious person, seizures, and heart problems.
Two OnStar advisors are on every EMD call: the advisor answering the call contacts first responders and provides continuous updates about people involved; the second advisor asks the MPDS series of questions and provides help until the first responders arrive on scene.
Prior to MPDS, OnStar advisors conferenced medical calls into PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points) in the respective geographic area, which might or might not use the MPDS. Regardless of the tools in place, the process to transfer the calls took time away from helping the victim. It also was a burden they had the potential to lift from the incredibly busy PSAPs, Shiemke said.
“It was something we could do by going with the MPDS,” Shiemke said. “We wanted to provide a more complete service and, at the same time, fill in the gap of time during any emergency situation.”
Shiemke credits OnStar Global Emergency Services Leader Ann Maher with the initiative to implement EMD. Maher credits Shiemke for following through on the 20 Points and ACE application.
“This is very serious business, and ACE shows we are doing our absolute best to help in a crisis,” Maher said. “We have the best tools our advisors can use.”
Shiemke said awaiting word from Page made her almost as anxious as putting the final document together for mailing and review.
“We put the application in the mail and followed the tracking number,” she said. “It was very exciting when she called and said that we had made it.”
The snakebite rescue is a single emergency medical call on a list that keeps on growing. Similar to PSAPs, OnStar advisors give instructions to control bleeding, deliver babies, give CPR, and dislodge food causing a person to choke. And their experiences are similar to EMDs working inside a PSAP.
In January 2012, Heather Irwin was the OnStar emergency second advisor on an EMD call from a mother, frantic about her three-month-old baby’s breathing trouble. The situation grew even more tenuous when the baby stopped breathing, necessitating infant CPR PAIs that Irwin relayed to the mother and the mother relayed to a passenger now outside of the car. A quick thank-you from the mom once the ambulance arrived was the last Irwin heard of the incident.
“We don’t get any follow-up after a call so I don’t know what happened to the baby,” Irwin said. “But that’s part of the job. There’s always another call, another person who needs our help.”1
OnStar emergency advisors also assist their fair share of Good Samaritans, as shown in the following two stories available from the OnStar site.
Tyler Andrews couldn’t miss seeing the SUV stopped in the middle of an entrance ramp he had taken to merge onto a tollway in the spring of 2012. He pulled over, saw the panicked looks of a woman and three children, and noticed the unconscious driver slumped over the steering wheel.
Andrews pushed his red emergency button and explained the situation to the OnStar emergency advisor, who immediately alerted first responders. A second EMD-certified advisor provided first-aid instructions, first to Andrews and then to the wife of the driver. The husband survived and Andrews received the OnStar 2012 Good Samaritan of Year award in recognition of stopping to help.
Rennie and Sara Muzii were on their way to a family outing in June 2012 with their three children when they saw a woman on the side of the highway pulling a man out of a vehicle and laying him on the ground. Sara pushed the OnStar button while Rennie exited the car to find out the problem. The OnStar advisor provided instructions for helping the man prior to ambulance arrival.
1Through an Advisor’s Eyes: When a Baby Stopped Breathing, Jan. 23, 2012; accessed May 17, 2013. www.onstarconnections.com/2012/01/through-an-advisors-eyes-when-a-baby-s…