Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Any Time Help

Call 1298 and avail of the only private advanced life support ambulance service in the state

By Shevlin Sebastian

Omana J. Prakash, 45, was being treated at Mary Queen’s hospital, Kanjirapally. She had a stroke and epileptic fits. After a few tests, the doctors felt that she should be shifted immediately to the Caritas Hospital in Kottayam. The hospital authorities called 1298 and the organisation, Ambulance Access for All, sent an advance life support ambulance.

However, at Kodungoor, the woman suffered a fit, followed by a bradycardia (slow heart rate).

“Prince Zachariah, the emergency medical technician, immediately gave CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation),” says Nijil Ibrahim, project head, Kerala, for Ambulance Access For All. The woman survived.

However, near Manargad, she had a second attack of bradycardia. Again Prince quickly provided CPR.

“It saved her life,” says Nijil. “The doctors at Caritas Hospital were very appreciative.” Later, Omana’s brother, Ajay Ghosh, wrote a letter of gratitude. “Thanks to Ambulance Access, my sister is alive today,” he says.

1298 is the only private advanced life support ambulance service provider in the state. Apart from five ambulances in Kochi, they have 28 ambulances all over the state, and tie-ups with over 150 ambulance providers.

“There are two kinds of ambulances,” says Joemon Thomas, Zonal Manager. One is the advance life support ambulance where the patient, who is in an emergency situation, is provided medical assistance.

This Rs 18.5 lakh air-conditioned van has an oxygen cylinder, a ventilator, a defibrillator a pulse oxymeter, a suction machine, a rolling stretcher and a foldable wheelchair.

Manning it is a three-member crew which includes the driver, an emergency medical technician and a male nurse.

For routine transfers, it is the smaller Omni, which is a basic life support ambulance. This contains a first aid kit and an oxygen cylinder.

In Kochi, the company charges Rs 1500 for a transfer to premium hospitals like Lakeshore and Ernakulam Medical Centre and Rs 750 for medium range hospitals. “We offer the service free for those who want to be taken to government hospitals,” says Nijil.

So what happens when you call 1298?

“Our call centre is based in Mumbai, since we had initially started our service there,” says Joemon. “Thanks to the Global Positioning System, the address will show up on a map of Kerala. And we try to locate the nearest ambulance within two minutes.”

At the same time, the call centre worker asks about the situation of the patient. A software programme, ProQua, provides solutions for different emergencies.

“Suppose a patient has stopped breathing, then the software will suggest what to do,” says Joemon. “These suggestions are passed on to the caller, so that life-saving actions can be taken before the ambulance arrives.”

Within fifteen minutes, the ambulance will arrive at the house.

However, like calls all over the world, only 20 per cent are emergency cases: heart attacks, burns, accidents, trauma and labour pains. The rest are routine transfers.

“That means, a patient has been discharged from the hospital and is being taken home,” says Nijil. “Or a patient is being moved from a smaller to a bigger hospital.”

Ambulance Access receives a lot of calls but is unable to attend to every one. “Last month, we had to cancel 125 calls,” says Nijil. In February, the company received 600calls statewide. In Kochi, alone, they get more than 100 a month.

The company was set up by five young professionals, who met while studying in the United States -- Shaffi Mather, Ravi Krishnan, Manish Sacheti, Naresh Jain and Shwetha Mangal. During a holiday in Jaipur, one of their friends had an accident and they could not get an ambulance. Subsequently, the friend died.

“We decided to start an ambulance service,” says Ravi Krishnan. “The majority of ambulances in India are for dead body transfer. It is not clean. The service is of poor quality and the staff is not trained in handling emergencies.”

Also, Ravi says, most private services provided free services and hence they folded up when they ran out of money. “We wanted to set up a model from which we could earn money to meet our expenses,” he says.

In order to weather the initial financial obstacles, the group obtained a $1.5 million grant from the New York-based Acumen Fund. Also, advertisements were allowed on the vehicles to generate income.

“This year, TATA AIG has sponsored all the ambulances,” says Joemon. The group is going strong and steadily establishing its reputation.

So the next time you are in a medical emergency, call 1298 and help will be on its way immediately.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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