The Split-Second Importance of EMS Transport

In times of uncertainty, it can be easy to forget the basics. Kim Cicon is the Emergency Department Service Line Director and Trauma Program Manager at Penn Highlands Healthcare, who explains that in recent weeks, some patients who have sought emergency care have needed a reminder about what to do when an urgent medical event occurs. Cicon’s advice? Call 911 for emergency transportation to the ER. “We have been noticing a trend of patients with significant injuries or illnesses coming by private vehicle,” Cicon says. “It can be life-saving to call 911 if they have a significant injury, chest pain, shortness of breath, or stroke symptoms, to name a few.”

What’s changed? Some experts suggest that while 911 was always an easy go-to, lately it’s possible that some of us view technology as a resource for care. Ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft have caused EMS transport to decrease in more metropolitan areas, and some of us have gotten so dependent on Siri and Alexa that it’s tempting to seek their advice or emergency contact information in urgent situations. (Alexa is actually equipped with some capabilities that are HIPAA-compliant.) But in areas like ours where there’s not an Uber on every corner, Cicon says, it’s important to depend on tried and true services. While some patients might even believe that making the journey themselves is safest, in serious instances this is simply not the case. “We don’t want people to be on the road driving with health conditions and experience delays or an accident because they’re bringing themselves to the hospital,” she explains, noting that some patients are “waiting too long to get here,” while other emergency scenarios actually put hospital staff at risk for injury to themselves when they’re tasked with trying to pull an injured patient out of a private vehicle.

As we reported last May after Penn Highlands DuBois obtained the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Silver Plus/Gold Plus Target Service Elite Award, EMS personnel begin medical intervention on a patient as soon as they arrive on the scene. “ care is started once they get in the ambulance,” Cicon says. “That’s something people tend to forget. These are qualified professionals who arrive to take care of them immediately.”

In many cases, EMS arrival also marks the point when the paramedics initiate communication with the hospital emergency department. “EMS services notify us ahead of time in cases of a possible heart attack or stroke,” Cicon says. “We get the notification that they’re coming, and things move quickly. We’re prepared at the door to get the patient to the proper testing.”

Cicon is aware that the times we’re in might give some patients pause in an instance when a swift decision is key. However, she says, “We want to get across to patients that it’s safe for them to call 911. EMS are following all precautions from the Department of Health and the CDC to make their transport safe in regards to COVID.”

The National Institute of Health advises to call 911 immediately if you or someone else experiences life-threatening symptoms, including:

  • Bleeding that will not stop
  • Breathing problems
  • Change in mental status (unusual behavior, confusion)
  • Chest pain
  • Choking
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden severe pain anywhere in the body
  • Head or spine injury
  • Severe abdominal pain or pressure
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness or change in vision
  • Sudden injury due to accident, burns, smoke inhalation, near drowning, deep or large wound or other injuries
  • Swallowing a poisonous substance
  • Feeling of committing suicide or murder
  • Other medical emergencies

This month, construction went underway at Penn Highlands DuBois for the new Emergency Department tower to open in Summer 2021. This update is part of the Master Facilities Plan that Penn Highlands launched in 2018 and will serve as a step in enabling patients in highly acute emergency scenarios to receive high-quality care locally, rather than to be transported by ground or air to a facility in another city.

For more information on emergency services at Penn Highlands Healthcare, visit