The 14th Annual General Meeting of the Vanuatu Emergency Services Association (VESA) which is the registered Vanuatu charity that oversees the services provided by ProMedical, was held last week.

Those attending heard the Annual Report from the outgoing Chairperson, Douglas Patterson, the Operations Report from National Operations Manager, Peta Owen, and a financial report from the Treasurer Audrey Proctor.

Several significant changes were announced on the evening, among them a change of name for the charity, a new Constitution and an internal restructuring of the three “departments” within ProMedical (the Port Vila station, the Santo station and ProRescue, Vanuatu’s equivalent of the Australian SES). These changes are designed to create more autonomy in the departments through their own management sub-committees that will soon be established.

Perhaps no-one is better placed to comment on the growth and reputation of ProMedical than the founding chair of the original committee set up in 2003, Douglas Patterson, the Principal of Island Property, who has served in that voluntary position for the last fifteen years.

Daily Post Editor, Jane Joshua spoke to him after he announced that he would be stepping down as chair after a decade and a half.

Douglas repeated what he told the AGM, “Every organisation needs new blood, new ideas, new energy, new leadership. It has been an amazing experience to have been involved with ProMedical from the very beginning.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to have seen one milestone after another achieved. Getting the first ni-Vanuatu paramedic qualified, the opening of the Santo ProMedical station, the creation of a Rescue division, similar to SES in Australia, the incredible response of the whole team, including Renegade Aid, a group of community volunteers, in the days and weeks after Cyclone Pam, increasing the ambulance fleet, importing a number of AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) into the country, building up working relationships with ambulance services in Australia, and the Planet Medic volunteer paramedics, plus with the Police, VMF and Municipality locally, receiving scores of overseas volunteer paramedics to help train our local student paramedics, getting the sponsorship of several of Vanuatu’s largest corporates, being assisted by the Australian Government through the AVID (Australian Volunteers for International Development) programme – and so many more.

“Another major achievement was the introduction for the first-time last year of the use of Tenecteplase, which is used to prevent death from a heart attack (acute myocardial infarction). by causing the body to over-produce a substance called plasmin to dissolve unwanted blood clots. Unfortunately, Tenecteplase costs more than VT200,000 a time, so we really do need sponsorship and support to continue to offer this proven lifesaving treatment.

“It has also been very enjoyable to work with the various Team Managers and charity boards that we have had.”

Speaking of the early days of ProMedical, Douglas recounted that, “From 2000 to 2003 ProMedical was a single vehicle, sole responder, private ambulance service owned and managed by an Australian paramedic named Darren Penny and his partner Vanessa Quigley. Many of your readers willremember them.

“Their ProMedical service quickly earned a strong reputation within the Port Vila community, overseas insurers and government agencies. In December 2001, a custom-built ambulance was imported from Australia and equipped to the standard of Advanced Life Support using existing equipment. This resulted in a dramatic increase in local emergency work.

“ProMedical was approached in 2002 to take on the management of Vanuatu’s hyperbaric chamber which was previously installed at Northern Districts Hospital in Luganville. The chamber was relocated to Port Vila and installed in ProMedical’s ambulance station where it has been ever since.

“When you see the stress our paramedics are subjected to responding to emergencies, sometimes involving fatalities, it is quite astonishing that Darren managed to keep going for three years working alone as the only paramedic, also providing escorts on commercial airlines and inter-islandevacuations, as well as first aid training.

“Not surprisingly, having to do all of this alone took a toll on both Darren and Vanessa, and after they reluctantly decided to return to Australia, a small group of us who you might describe as “community minded individuals” were worried that this would deprive the Port Vila community of what had already become a vitally important service.

“So we decided to form a charity to try to ensure the service would not be lost. We decided to meet with Darren to see what could be done to continue what he had established, and he was very generous in giving us the time to get organised and pay him for his vehicle and equipment.

“In late 2003, a steering committee was formed which resulted in the formation of the Vanuatu Emergency Medical Services Association (VEMSA), as a registered charity, which I was asked to chair. VEMSA took over the operations of ProMedical on 1 January 2004.

“In these early years, the board often was the management, having to make most of the day to day decisions, and to do this properly until 2007 the board used to meet every two weeks. Occasionally we reached the point where there was barely enough money to pay the staff salaries and we stayed alive thanks to private donations from supportive friends and clients made at these crucial times.

“Only because of the concerted efforts of certain people, who gave their donations in cash and kind, were we able to survive the first few months, and almost before we knew it, the first year.

“There were no qualified paramedics in Vanuatu and no local ni-Vanuatu had even commenced paramedic studies, let alone finished them.

“Finding suitably qualified paramedics from overseas to lead the operations was not easy. We could not offer equivalent employment packages, and there was none of the professional structure that exists in larger cities such as peer support and professional counselling and ongoing training courses.

“I should also mention our late friend Kely Ihrig who as Treasurer worked tirelessly with me very closely for many years; she was also instrumental. And one other important factor that helped stabilise ProMedical’s management, consolidate the service and build numerous local relationships, was the five-year period when Michael Benjamin was the Team Manager. Prior to that we had difficulty retaining managers for any extended period, although each one in their own way did all they could to help improve the service.

“So, to see 15 years later what we have grown into, with an ambulance station in Santo and a Rescue Department led by Troy Spann that I have heard described as being just as professional and proficient as many SES units in Australia, working relationships with the Police the VMF and the Municipality, and seeing that more 70 per cent of our subscribing members are ni-Vanuatu, is incredibly satisfying and inspiring, not just for me but for all of us who are part of ProMedical.”

Referring to ProMedical’s local staff, Douglas mentioned that “Vanuatu’s only local qualified paramedic Judy Willie has worked for ProMedical more than 10 years, and student paramedic George Jack more than five years. In Luganville, both Jerome Sese the Santo Team Manager and Yvong Toa started working for ProMedical Santo in July 2014, so our local paramedic staff are all building up a lot of years of experience to call upon.

“Our core values have never changed, which include achieving and adhering to international standards for staff professionalism, equipment and patient care, responding to all calls for assistance on a 24-hour basis, and accessibility for all members of the public, whoever they are.

“Last year in Port Vila the team responded to 606 calls for help and did six domestic and seventeen international domestic medi-vacs, which is the air transport of patients to overseas hospitals. They also carried out six repatriations of remains (deceased bodies) and conducted three Hyperbaric Chamber treatments, which are usually divers who get into difficulties.

“When you add the Santo operation into this, plus the amazing contribution of the ProRescue unit that engaged in 180 activities, events, training sessions and callouts last year amounting to several thousand hours of voluntary time – Vanuatu should be proud that we have such a professional and dedicated ambulance and emergency service.

When asked if ProMedical receives any Government funding, Douglas confirmed that they do not, however he was quick to point out that, “You have to remember, we are actually a Non-Government Organisation and a charitable association. So in some ways it is unrealistic for us to expect Government funding, especially given their many other urgent priorities, not just at the hospitals and clinics around the country, but also the Government’s own ambulance service.

“On the other hand, we have enjoyed very helpful relations with the Immigration Department and in particular Commissioner of Labour Lionel Kaluat and this office, assisting us with the scores of oversees volunteers and paramedic staff we have had over the years.

When asked if was difficult to step away from the leadership of such a reputable and vitally important national organisation, Douglas said that he would be continuing to serve as an ordinary VESA board member, emphasizing that, “The ongoing recruitment of new staff, the coming and going of overseas volunteers, and the evolution of new board membership is clear evidence to me that VESA as a charity, and ProMedical as a community service, is not dependent on any one person or any one group of people, and this must surely be one of the strongest signs that we have achieved long term sustainability”.

Douglas concluded by explaining that what the average member of the public can do to help ProMedical hasn’t really changed.

“Buy yourself and your family a subscription to ProMedical. If you are an employer, sign up your staff for work place ambulance cover, or pay a bit more and get them 24/7 cover. A ProMedical annual subscription makes a good present, and being a member will save you the cost of an ambulance call out.

This could help save your life or the life of a family member or friend. Tell your friends about ProMedical and how to join us. Follow us on the ProMedical and ProRescue facebook pages. And one last thing, if you happen to see one of our paramedics or Rescue crew, stop and shake their hand and thank them for the amazing job they do.

“Our paramedics respond day and night to all kinds of traumatic incidents that often involve making split second decisions in emergency situations that may involve very grave injuries or fatalities. Many people may not appreciate just how stressful this can be.

These dedicated people are lifesavers and they are available to all of us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We hope you done’t, but you might need them one day!”

Readers wanting to join ProMedical should telephone 26996 or email admin@promedical.com.vu

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