Special to the Journal
Augusta, Ga. – The region’s first fellowship-trained emergency medical services physician is now part of the first-response team managing the worst accidents and disasters in the Augusta area.
Dr. Todd Burgbacher, who completed his emergency medicine residency at the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia Regents Health System last year, has returned to MCG and Georgia Regents University after completing a one-year Emergency Medical Services fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
EMS is a new medical subspecialty in the United States that focuses on pre-hospital care and the infrastructure supporting it.
Starting this week, Burgbacher joins Gold Cross EMS and the Augusta Fire Department at scenes such as vehicle extrications, field amputations, and mass casualties as well as more typical 911 calls in Richmond, Columbia and Jefferson counties in a fully-equipped GRU/GR Health emergency response vehicle.
“Dr. Burgbacher will be out on the front line for worst-case scenarios, able to work directly with EMTs and paramedics, to supervise and educate real time; and to improve care in the field,” said Dr. Richard Schwartz, Chairman of the MCG Department of Emergency Medicine and Hospitalist Services.
“This is a great thing for our community and the next step in providing exceptional emergency and trauma care and training to our region. It’s expanding our emergency care from the emergency department to the pre-hospital setting and expanding our EMS education as well,” Schwartz said.
MCG and GR Health System plan to establish an EMS fellowship to train more physicians like Burgbacher starting in July 2014.
Dr. John McManus, who directed the U.S. Army EMS for three years, created the first emergency medicine fellowship in the Armed Services, and closed the last Army field hospital in Iraq, joined the MCG faculty Nov. 1 to help build and direct the fellowship. The Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education approved EMS fellowships, such as the one Burgbacher recently completed, in September 2012.
As part of a related educational expansion, the MCG Department of Emergency Medicine also is developing a year-long paramedic course. Faculty and staff already teach a three-month EMT course, which is regularly taken by members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s elite hostage rescue teams
Burgbacher, who also will serve as Assistant Medical Director of Gold Cross, will work closely with Gold Cross Medical Director Dr. Jimmy L. Peebles, to expand and refine protocols for area EMTs and paramedics. Burgbacher also is Medical Director for the air ambulance service, AirMed Augusta.
“Our EMS professionals already provide exceptional care to area citizens, but this brings us a step closer to delivering hospital-level care in the field,” Burgbacher said. As an example, physicians can administer a muscle relaxer to reestablish an airway in a patient with a significant head injury and resulting clenched jaw. Georgia’s scope of practice laws for paramedics prohibits ground crews from taking these extreme lifesaving measures, Burgbacher said.
“They can intubate, but they can’t give drugs to sedate people and they can’t give drugs to paralyze people if the patient is combative or has a clenched airway,” he said.
The newly-trained EMS and emergency medicine physician has previously worked as an instructor in the Critical Care Emergency Medical Transport Programs in Augusta and Texas, and has served as Assistant Medical Director of the Augusta and San Antonio Fire Departments. He also worked as an EMT for about five years.
“This is where my passion is,” he said of the new job that has him again working as part of an emergency response team. Burgbacher, a native of Naples, Fla., thought he wanted to be an engineer but could not let go of an early fascination with emergency responders. He started volunteering, and became an EMT before starting medical school in 2005.
Earlier this year, MCG’s Center of Operational Medicine and Minnesota-based Vighter Medical Group signed a five-year contract to provide supplemental medical support to the FBI. It was the second renewal for MCG. The MCG Center work also works with local and state police, as well as other federal agencies to provide medical training and support to their forces and the medics assigned to them.
The center also has helped develop a series of courses used around the world that help a wide array of providers – from police to paramedics to hospital administrators and firefighters – work optimally together in the aftermath of natural and manmade disasters.
Locally, the MCG Department of Emergency Medicine also provides physicians for the emergency departments at Trinity Hospital of Augusta and the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Dr. Phillip Coule, Vice Chairman of Business Affairs for the Department of Emergency Medicine, has served as Medical Director of the Augusta Fire Department for a half dozen years.