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Long-standing medical procedure replaced

Long-standing medical procedure replaced

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If you’ve watched a cop show or any show with a car crash scene, you have likely seen rescuers strap the people involved to a hard long board and strap down their heads so it can’t move.

That has been the standard procedure for decades for rescuers handling anyone they believe could have neck or back injuries. That has been true for Burke County Emergency Management Services.

Until now.

It was last summer when EMS officials started talking about not using the hard long board to move, transport and stabilize a patient that might have some type of back or neck injury.

Hawkins said he believes Burke County is the first county in the state to make the change.

Patients will still be immobilized but it won’t be on a flat, hard long board, said Dr. Seth Hawkins, medical director for Burke County

Greg Curry, director of Burke County EMS, said mattresses on ambulance stretchers are contoured to fit a person’s body and keep them immobilized. He said there’s less chance for a patient’s body to slide around using the contoured mattress than the slick, hard surface of the long board. And patients accept being on the mattress better than the long board, he said. A patient’s head would also be immobilized, say officials.

County EMS officials say there is medical evidence that shows long boards are poor at immobilizing patients and can actually cause harm.

Also, the new protocol allows EMS personnel to determine if a patient needs to have their motion restricted rather than automatically immobilizing the patient, according to EMS officials.

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EMS crews will be able to choose the best strategy for moving and transporting a patient with possible spinal injury. Long boards could still be used to remove someone out of awkward locations, according to officials.

Going to the new method is not something the county will have to spend a lot of money to do.

Jason Black, who is in charge of training and operations for Burke County EMS, said the equipment was already on county ambulances. And county paramedics have been trained in the new procedure, Black said.

Black said using only the long board to transport those with possible spinal injury for decades was like only having one screwdriver in a toolbox. Using the contoured mattresses and giving rescue workers the ability to make a determination about the best method for moving and transporting a patient is like opening up the entire toolbox, he said.

Hawkins said, “We’re not doing business just because that’s the way we did it before.”

While the change is a big one, Burke County is not the only county that is looking at making the change. Hawkins said Durham and Johnson counties could be going in the same direction.

According to information from the county, the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons, the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, the National Association of EMS Physicians and the Wilderness Medical Society support the reduction or elimination of using the long board in trauma care.

Because using the long board has been so ingrained in society, and particularly in paramedics and rescue workers, Black had reservations in the beginning about the change. But after he had time to think about it, he was onboard with the change, Black said.

Hawkins said EMS will be educating the public on the change by speaking to community groups and clubs.

Sharon McBrayer can be reached by email at or at 828-432-8946.

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