Dr. George Gallant: A Leader in Emergency Care
As one of the first coordinated EMS systems in the state, the EMS recently celebrated its 35th anniversary and the many improvements that have taken place since the system started in 1975. The EMS system also honored Dr. George Gallant – who recently retired after 32 years – for his years of service to the system.
According to Gallant, when he began working with EMS in McHenry County, “every department was volunteer.” There were many rescue squads present in the area, but today’s efficiencies and technology have greatly improved the service. Emergency calls were often routed to a home-based dispatch service and synchronization between departments was difficult.
Gallant arrived in McHenry from Akron, Ohio, in the 1970s with a vision and a goal. “I wanted to become the medical director of the EMS program and of the emergency department,” he explained. “I knew I could use my work with volunteers in Akron to make significant changes and improvements to the paramedic program here.”
When Gallant arrived, paramedic class was about 120 hours, he remembered. “It was held in the cafeteria of the old McHenry Hospital – we used a nursing textbook.”
Current class requirements are more than 1,200 hours.
Communication between the emergency departments and paramedics used to be cumbersome. The ambulance crew was first required to transmit information, including vital signs and an EKG before orders for an IV or any drugs (by number) could be ordered. This situation “was a setup for failure,” he said, because patient evaluation was lengthy as were the discussions with a nurse or doctor before actually being able to treat the patient. One of Gallant’s first major changes in the way emergency medicine functioned in McHenry County was to permit the establishment of an IV based on protocol.
The bottom line remained that there still existed major room for improvement in EMS services and Gallant was ready to raise the bar. The next change was to reduce the amount of sequential processes that took place in the field. There was no lack of volunteer personnel, so crews worked in harmony assigning a multitude of different activities to different members.
“Do the vitals in one place,” Gallant explained. “Someone takes the patient history, someone starts an IV,” all at the same time. The result is better patient care and shorter time in the field.
Another issue that troubled Gallant was lack of exposure. The volunteer paramedics were absolutely fantastic, dedicated individuals.
“They wanted to be there, to take care of their community; they even raised money to make the system work,” he said. “They came from their workplaces, farms and families, but the low number of critical patients limited opportunity for experience. They needed better training; there were standards that needed to be followed.”
So Gallant put those standards in place. His criteria that paramedics were expected to meet – while initially not unanimously accepted by the pre-hospital or medical community – evolved into today’s highly trained, technically competent providers.
Potential and performance improved throughout the county’s EMS services. “Expectations suddenly grew,” he recollected. “Even volunteers were expected to learn protocol and to perform.”
Suddenly, paramedics were not only watching idly in the back of the ambulances, driving the patients to the hospital, but they were actively involved in patient care. “If you’re going to do it, do it right,” Gallant said.
The intended beneficiaries of his changes were the patients and he strove to perfect this practice. Gallant stressed education, education, education. “After calls, we talked about what went well and what did not; they walked away much stronger paramedics,” he said.
Gallant was not afraid to work in the field, often arriving on the scene of an accident or medical call. He had a blue light and was authorized to use the county fire frequency on a donated radio. “It was education on the front lines,” he said.
Help From Above
Not only did Gallant revolutionize, streamline and upgrade EMS services in McHenry County, he was instrumental in the arrival of the county’s first EMS helicopter. This desperately needed medical service was “many years in the making,” he said.
Helicopters were utilized by medical personnel before Gallant’s arrival in McHenry County, but the system was inefficient. After a traumatic accident, if a helicopter was necessary, emergency personnel had to “call the State of Illinois first,” he recalled.
After making arrangements, the helicopter would arrive 45 minutes later, landing in the field of McHenry High School. “When the patient needs a Level 1 center, they need it now,” he said.
Several large receiving hospitals developed helicopter programs primarily to bring patients to their facility. Gallant’s goal was to get the many patients who needed the service of a tertiary care center there in a timely fashion.
So Gallant took on the arduous task of bringing in a helicopter to service McHenry County and the surrounding area. He asked questions and attended conferences. He needed a model that would fund an incredibly expensive, yet valuable service. He met with the late Barb Hess, former Flight For Life director in Milwaukee, and Bill Riggs, then the director of EMS, and they coordinated the start-up of Flight For Life’s satellite program in the county in May 1987.
The helicopter was housed at Lake in the Hills Airport until a hangar was built on the Centegra campus. They recruited nurses, primarily from the emergency department, and paramedics from local fire departments and rescue squads. After specialty training, the helicopter took flight and continues to be a very visible, life-saving service to those who live in and visit McHenry County.
Gallant revolutionized the emergency medical systems in McHenry County. He brought together a hospital, fire departments, rescue squads, private ambulance services, helicopter, physicians, nurses, EMTs and paramedics into one cohesive force. “I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Added Spring Grove Fire Chief Rich Tobiasz, “He always sought the best possible care for the patient. It is this mindset that Dr. G. leaves with us.”