Josh McFadden

Josh McFadden

ACE Achievers

By Josh McFadden

Any agency that has achieved recognition as an International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) ACE knows the process does not happen overnight. In fact, attaining ACE status requires sustained effort, laser-focus, and complete commitment from every team member.

But no one would say the challenging course to achieving this distinction wasn’t worth it.

Kathrina Murray can attest to this. The control manager at the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) in Dublin, Ireland, played an integral role in helping the center become accredited in January 2015.

“The accreditation process requires clear planning, time, resources, and a change in management methodologies in order to achieve the award,” Murray said. “Tasks ranged from highlighting the potential benefits to senior management, to ensuring ‘buy-in’ for each stage of the accreditation process, to informing and educating staff to the benefits for patients as well as to their work processes.”

The NEOC is an agency within Ireland’s National Ambulance Service (NAS). Its 130 staff members work 12-hour shifts and serve 4.6 million residents. As the island of Ireland spreads over 32,599 square miles (84,431 square kilometers), there is a lot of ground to cover. The NEOC also dispatches for the aero medical desk and works closely with the Coast Guard, mountain rescue teams, Community First Responders, and Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboats.

Naturally, most calls NEOC dispatchers take are in English, but there is a smattering of other languages spoken in the country, including Irish (often referred to as Gaelic or Gaeilge), Polish, Lithuanian, and others.

Murray, who also served as the project manager for accreditation, said the NEOC fields about 13,000 emergency calls per month using the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS). It was apparent to Murray and her colleagues NAS Director Martin Dunne, National Control Operations Manager Sean Brady, and Supervisor David Sweeney that working toward becoming an ACE would help the center better serve the people of Ireland.

“Improved patient care and best practices were the primary motivators for the NEOC and NAS to seek and become accredited,” Murray said. “It was recognized at an early stage that this accreditation could enable improved patient care delivered over the phone by calltakers in our NEOC. The accreditation would enable a standardized approach throughout the NEOC to how calls would be taken and dealt with.”

Murray had the added benefit of working in an accredited center prior to coming to the NEOC. Her previous experience taught her that accreditation would not only help the thousands of monthly callers but the communication center employees as well.

“Having worked in an accredited center previously, it was clear that there are many benefits that an organization can achieve through an accreditation process,” she said. “One such benefit was the opportunity to learn from others as well as ourselves and to foster a culture of continually learning and process improving.”

As if accreditation isn’t challenging enough, the NEOC had the added obstacle of dealing with in-house restructuring during the ACE process; the NAS significantly consolidated its operations from nine control centers to one center with two sites.

“This included integration of information technology platforms as well as staff, processes, and ways of working,” Murray said.

Murray said communication and preparation were critical elements of working through the accreditation process and ultimately becoming an ACE.

The NEOC accreditation project was led by a Dispatch Steering Committee that communicated frequently with senior management on milestones, achievements, and progress. Additionally, staff members were regularly apprised of the accreditation effort and its status.

“This enabled a more motivated and open culture within the NEOC where quality and continual process improvement is everyone’s priority,” Murray said.

Being an ACE gives the NEOC, and all accredited agencies, the advantage of having a consistent, standardized calltaking approach, which helps improve over-the-phone patient care. Because it is now an ACE, the NEOC has more defined, consistent standard operating procedures. It also has the support from the Academy in the form of workshops and continual learning opportunities.

Murray believes the benefits of being an ACE will serve the NEOC and NAS for years to come. For that reason, she believes becoming accredited is a no-brainer for any agency. And through planning and learning, this milestone is well within reach.

“It’s important that a clear plan is agreed upon and communicated to ensure commitment to the project at all levels of the organization,” she said. “Understand that the accreditation process takes time and resources, and it may require change. The opportunity to learn as part of this accreditation process has been valuable to NEOC.”