At the top of UVA Medical Center, in an office just inside from the helipad, you’ll find a team of communicators performing critically important work 24/7. They essentially operate as a miniature 911 center, command center and air traffic control all wrapped into one. This is UVA Medical Emergency Communications Center, also known as Medcom.
Working at Medcom can be a stressful job that requires handling intense situations on a regular basis. While much of what they do may go unnoticed by the general public, this team coordinates the arrival of anyone coming to the UVA Emergency Department via an ambulance or helicopter.
This is just part of the many things they do, as I found out after talking with Medcom supervisor Gary Morris. The Medcom team is highly trained and handles a wide variety of important responsibilities.
A Career in Public Safety
Morris has been working in public safety since 1986. He began his UVA career in 2007 in the emergency room as a tech. In 2010, he transitioned to the Medical Communications Center to become a full-time communicator.
Later, he decided to move to a part-time position in order to become director of a regional EMS council. Then in 2016, Morris was recruited to return to UVA full-time as a Medcom supervisor. He’s doing it ever since.
In addition, Morris currently serves as the chief of the Louisa County Rescue Squad.
“As a Medcom supervisor, it is my responsibility to oversee the daily operations of the team and support the staff as best as I can,” says Morris. This includes making sure staff has all of the resources and training they need to succeed at their job. Scheduling is also important, to make sure team members have adequate downtime to decompress.
Emergency Communications Supervisor: No Typical Days
When you work in medical communications, there is no typical day or week, Morris explains. “Every single day presents challenges that are unique and different.” From coordinating air traffic on its way to UVA to scheduling an ambulance to transport a patient to another clinic, the Medcom teams handles it all.
In an average month, the team will:
- Process 2,000 patient reports coming into the Emergency Department
- Make around 700 – 800 dispatch calls
Emergency Services at the Ready
Learn more about the transport and emergency services available at UVA.
It’s an extremely important job that can be stressful and a little overwhelming, but it can also be motivating. In many cases, they are the first advocate patients have as they enter the Health System. “Everything that we do is intended to be in the best interest of those patients,” says Morris.
Inside the Communications Center
There is a lot of technology on display behind the doors of the communications center. The communicators monitor three computer screens while talking via headsets to both phone and radio contacts. On the wall, screens display the real-time GPS location as well as the current status of UVA’s Pegasus helicopter, other patient helicopter transports and every UVA ambulance on the ground. Another monitor displays a live feed of various cameras throughout the hospital.
This is the team that dispatches UVA’s emergency vehicles:
- Pegasus air
- Pegasus ground
- UVA Medic V ambulances
- Wheelchair vans
- Neonatal Emergency Transport Team (NETS), which transports critical condition newborns to UVA
They also handle calls related to non-patient related emergencies that occur within the Health System. So, if a visitor falls down in the lobby, the Medcom team gets notified and a response team dispatched.
When UVA has special events such as graduation or concerts, the Medcom team is ready to handle any calls. A team member is on hand to communicate directly with the response teams who are stationed at the event, serving as a liaison with the UVA Emergency Department.
This would become a very long post if we tried to describe all of the situations that this team handles. It’s a lot. The team interacts with so many departments across the Health System, from the Emergency Department and Trauma Services to hospital security. “Our team can be viewed as a hub on a wheel. Working with all of these other departments makes the wheel turn.”