UChicago Ingalls Memorial and South Cook County EMS celebrate 51 years of patient care

UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital
Veteran's Memorial Park


UChicago Ingalls Memorial and South Cook County EMS celebrate 51 years of patient care (Harvey, IL) — Before the 1970s, the survival of a South Cook County resident — whether they had a heart attack or suffered traumatic injuries — often hinged on luck.

A family member, police officer or firefighter might drive the patient to the hospital, recalled Bernard Heilicser, DO, an emergency medicine physician at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey. Some funeral homes even ran “ambulance” services, transporting the sick in hearses.

The national need for structured, mobile medical care led to the first Emergency Medical Services (EMS) systems in 1969. Ingalls swiftly took notice, helping to coordinate and launch the South Cook County EMS in 1973.

Ingalls is celebrating 51 years as the “resource hospital” for South Cook County EMS, with responsibility over EMS services at six area associate hospitals in Illinois and Indiana.

The designation puts Ingalls in charge of educational and clinical operations. These include coordinating almost 1,400 paramedics working for 43 municipal fire departments and three private ambulance companies.

The combined efforts provide emergency care to about 1 million people in the Southland, said Heilicser, who has served as Medical Director for the South Cook County EMS for nearly 41 years.

“It starts with the medics, the people who are out there doing this every day, 24/7,” Heilicser said. “They are there caring and taking care of our population in South Cook County. Our folks have saved thousands of lives and delivered countless babies.”

“They’re there for our population’s best days and worst days.”

Ingalls’ EMS role ‘irreplaceable’

Local fire departments hire paramedics and buy ambulances, but EMS services are far too complex for any municipality to go it alone, South Holland Fire Chief Brian Kolosh said.

“We need the knowledge of our resource hospital,” said Kolosh, who trained as a paramedic at Ingalls. “EMS is always changing, and with Ingalls always on the forefront of those changes, it’s irreplaceable.”

For more than five decades, Ingalls has assumed the tasks of paramedic training, license renewals, ambulance inspections and meeting other state requirements, said Dawn McDermott, administrative assistant of EMS operations at South Cook County EMS.

The responsibilities don’t end there. Every day, medical staff in the hospital are on the phone or radio consulting on cases with EMS personnel, said Karen Stanford, MBA, BSN, RN, NEA-BC, Director of Emergency Services & Urgent Aids at Ingalls.

“One of our key roles is helping with the coordination of care,” she said.

Over the years, EMS has broadened its focus to provide more life-stabilizing care in the field before patients get to the hospital, noted Milissa Weber, BA, EMT-P, Ingalls Emergency Department Administrative Supervisor. Weber, who teaches EMS classes, served as a paramedic with the North Palos Fire Protection District.

Instructors must keep up with medical advances, particularly advances in emergency medical care. Every time a new technique comes into play, Ingalls is responsible for training the paramedics to use it, Stanford said.

That includes use of ever-evolving technology. “We do what we believe to be the right thing for patient care,” Heilicser said.

Ingalls EMS Manager Josh Gibson took over the role last year from Kim Stotts, who retired after 40 years. Gibson said he wants to see Ingalls’ role in EMS continue to grow. He said he wants to be on the forefront of making good changes happen for the program and the communities.

A partnership that saves lives

Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld has a deep appreciation for South Cook County EMS — both as the longtime village official and as a recipient of emergency aid.

Hofeld fell through the ice on a lake in 2017 while rescuing his dog at Izaak Walton Preserve in Homewood.

“I hear all the time how compassionate and helpful the men and women in the service are,” Hofeld said. “They’re excellent at it.”

The partnership is crucial, Hofeld said. Mayors and fire chiefs work closely with one another and with Heilicser, himself a volunteer firefighter in Flossmoor.

Heilicser, who is also deputy medical director of the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team and medical director of the Illinois Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue, frequently goes to emergency calls in the South Cook County region.

“It’s a passion and I get to work with the best people in our society,” Heilicser said. “There are some calls that are hard to forget. But one remembers all the wonderful calls. If you get a rescue in the field, that’s a life saved.”

UChicago Ingalls Memorial and South Cook County EMS celebrate 51 years of patient care

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