Posted Date: 03/23/2022
A unique program developed by the Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service has received statewide attention.
COACHES, which stands for Caring for Ourselves and others Affected by Critical Happenings and Everyday Stressors, is a peer-support program that received the Corporate Health Champion Award by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma.
Since 2004, the Champions of Health awards have honored those who are making a difference in the health of Oklahomans.
Mike McWilliams, Muskogee County EMS special projects coordinator, said COACHES, now in its ninth year, has saved careers.
“We couldn’t be successful if it weren’t working,” McWilliams said.
McWilliams said the average career span for a medic is three to seven years. The idea that sprouted COACHES came after McWilliams started questioning why peer-support groups for other agencies were not being used.
“People weren’t taking advantage of them,” McWilliams said. “We looked at why.”
He said most other programs bring in an outside counselor to speak with EMS staff.
“They don’t want to talk with somebody that has never dealt with trauma,” McWilliams said.
All team members of COACHES are Muskogee County EMS paramedics. They understand what other paramedics have seen first-hand.
“We give them a place to vent frustration or stress or get things off their chest with someone that does the same job that they do,” McWilliams said. “That’s the key.”
With the help of his wife, who is a social worker, McWilliams developed the program and its guidelines specifically to offer support, not counseling.
“So, we aren’t crossing the lines of being counselors, we are just supporting them,” McWilliams said.
After what is considered a “bad call,” a coach is paged and then reaches out by phone to the medic who went on the call.
“Everybody is going to react different,” McWilliams said. “We sat down and looked at what is universally disturbing in the field.”
Anytime a call deals with death by trauma, homicide, suicide, or the death or injury of a child, a coach is paged. Each coach has medics who they are assigned to and the medics can call their coach at any time. McWilliams said the call simply gives the medic an opportunity.
“If they want to talk about it, we talk about it,” McWilliams said. “If they are good, they go on about their day.”
The coaches are always available after different calls. Medics can call their coaches anytime.
McWilliams said the award came as a surprise to the team. They were first notified in spring about their nomination.
“They were honored and surprised,” McWilliams said. “Out of the whole state, out of 104 entrees we were picked.”
Reach E.I. Hillin at (918) 684-2926 or email@example.com.