Sue Richardson, right, EMS Institute manager, and Mike Barrow, primary instructor at Penrose-St. Francis Paramedic Academy, demonstrate resuscitation procedures on a mannequin at an open house Sept. 6 at Penrose Hospital.

With the opening of the new EMT Institute and Paramedic Academy at Penrose Hospital, the Pikes Peak region now has an additional program to train emergency medical services providers.

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services will provide the six-month training programs as a satellite to St. Anthony Hospital Denver’s PreHospital Services courses.

The first cohort of 12 students will begin classes in October, said Sue Richardson, manager of the EMS Institute. A second cohort will follow early next year.

“We are growing the program slowly to make sure we are doing a very good job,” she said.

The program helps address what health care experts call a critical shortage of EMS personnel in the Pikes Peak region.

Richardson said she does not have figures on the shortage, but “anecdotally, my experience in our region is that we have had mandatory hirebacks and callouts for extra paramedics.”

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That means that ambulance and fire-based companies are committed to having a certain number of paramedics in service every day.

“If you have hiring freezes or people retire, you still have to fill those seats,” Richardson said. “If somebody is sick, people have to stay and work.”

Hiring freezes were common during the economic downturn, “but the community still needs 9-1-1 service,” she said. “Now that the economy has turned up, we’ve got to catch up.”

The Penrose Hospital-based program is ideal for students “who want to get done in a shorter period of time” than those who want to take the more traditional program at Pikes Peak Community College, Richardson said.

PPCC recently announced it was moving its paramedic program and most of its EMT training to the new UCHealth Memorial Hospital Community Education Center.

PPCC’s EMT program runs for two college semesters before students are ready to take the National Registry certification program. Students can earn several certificates or an associate of applied science degree in paramedicine or EMT.

The two programs cover the same ground — both require classroom training, clinical work and internship — and are accredited by the national governing body but vary in intensity and their timelines, Richardson said.

“The philosophy on how the programs are administered is different,” she said.

Through an arrangement with PPCC, students who complete the Penrose EMT Institute program can get 45 college credits toward advanced studies.

“Being a hospital-based program, we can put students right in an educational environment most conducive to the one they’ll have anyway,” Richardson said. “They get to do their clinicals in the hospital and have a connection to hospital providers. They’re really going to be connected to continuation of patient care, and when we can connect emergency medical services to hospital care, patients have better outcomes.”

The Pikes Peak region was in need of a hospital-based emergency medical services training program, but there is room for both, she said, and there is much more opportunity for paramedics than there was seven or eight years ago.

“We are using them in emergency departments in hospitals and in community-based, nonemergency facilities,” Richardson said. “There are critical care opportunities, flight opportunities and education opportunities.”

The EMS Institute and Paramedic Academy will liaise with 40 EMS and fire agencies representing 1,500 providers and five EMS medical directors in El Paso and Teller counties. The institute will build and foster partnerships with EMS care providers to provide seamless transitions and patient care.

The institute will:

• Provide an average of 29 high-quality, evidence-based EMS education classes each month

• Provide professional development plans that structure the continuing education offered for recertification to each EMS provider (Emergency Medical Responder, Emergency Medical Technician, Advanced Emergency Medical Responder and Paramedic)

• Participate at multiple EMS and community events annually

• Provide leadership and strategic direction for PreHospital Services and support EMS partners and EMS Medical Directors in providing care to communities throughout the Pikes Peak region.