The emergency operations centre (EOC) of Netcare 911 is the first point of contact for callers in need of emergency medical assistance. The high-pressure environment requires a highly skilled and passionate multilingual EOC team, many of whom are women.
“Sometimes we get children phoning in to tell us ‘There’s something wrong with Mommy’, and you can hear how scared they are. If they are home alone and the parent has a medical emergency, we are all the kids have until the ambulance arrives on the scene,” says Sr Ayanda Mkhulisi, a registered nurse and Netcare 911 case manager working in the EOC.
“You need a strong heart full of compassion and respect in this career because people call us for help in their most stressful and vulnerable times,” adds Selinah Gauwe, inbound resource coordinator at the EOC in Sunninghill, Johannesburg.
|Pictured (left to right) are Netcare 911 EOC coordinators Boitumelo Makhosani and Selinah Morongwa Gauwe with EOC team members quality assurance manager Dineo Tshabalala, nurse case manager Ayanda Mkhulisi and performance manager Charlotte Pillay.
“Our entire focus is on saving the life on the other end of the phone and providing help and hope to the caller in a crisis. When a person calls Netcare 911, either on 082 911 or via the emergency button on the Netcare app, their call is answered by an inbound EOC coordinator who is trained in basic life support and takes the details of the emergency. Behind the scenes, it is my job to locate and select the closest emergency care vehicle to the scene of the emergency,” Gauwe explains.
Sr Mkhulisi’s role as the registered nurse on duty is to provide primary healthcare advice to people calling in with concerns. She is also responsible for coordinating the right kind of emergency care for each incident response or interhospital transfer.
“In life-threatening emergencies, we also guide callers through the steps of first aid to help the patient until the ambulance arrives. We are trained to be calm and professional in the moment, the human side of the job can be intense. Before working here, I was a hospital nurse in my hometown of Pietermaritzburg and, being the person I am in this role, I do sometimes wish I could physically be with the person to help them in that moment,” Sr Mkhulisi says.
“There is a special kind of care people need in an emergency, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to guide the caller on how to keep a person alive, often in very distressing circumstances. Technology is helping, and we can now video link with callers’ phones to better assess and guide medical emergencies remotely until help arrives on the scene.”
The EOC has a special pause room for team members to take a private moment to regroup when needed in the fast-paced environment, and the team has a weekly visit from a social worker for more formal debriefing as well as access to resources including ICAS counselling and wellbeing services.
Zita van Zyl, deputy head of Netcare 911’s EOC, adds that technology, compassion and healthcare are coming together to improve emergency medical services, such as through the use of virtual consultations to enable the team to coach callers to perform lifesaving CPR via video call.
“We handle calls in all South African languages and have a growing list of international languages through the many talented and dedicated people working with us. Once, a helicopter emergency services pilot stepped in to calm and reassure a caller who only spoke a European language,” Van Zyl says.
“It can be difficult for a person on the scene of an emergency to remember what number to call or to provide directions. The emergency call and geolocation functions on the Netcare App assist in minimising response times by connecting callers and ensuring we have their precise location so the emergency vehicle can find them – even in remote areas or if the caller doesn’t know the address.
“There is a perception that emergency services are a male-dominated environment, but this has changed a lot in recent years. Most of our EOC frontline agents who answer inbound emergency calls are women, and it is also encouraging to see so many more women entering advanced life support programs.”
“I started out in engineering, and I have always had a passion for science, but one day I found myself in a situation where someone close to me was having a medical emergency, and although I was calm and knew the basics of what was needed in the situation, I really wished I had the knowledge to do more,” says Van Zyl, who was born in Bethel in Mpumalanga and grew up and settled in Fourways, Johannesburg.
“Afterwards, the person’s mother said to me, ‘You need to go into medicine,’ and so I changed my career direction entirely and went back to studying before gaining experience in road emergency medical services. Once I became a mother, I transferred to the EOC and realised the possibilities to help many more people from a different side of our service. We are always innovating and finding ways to better support people in an emergency and our staff, who are the backbone of the care we provide at every step,” she says.
Gauwe, who lives and grew up in Krugersdorp, says she always wanted a career in healthcare. “From a young age I had a love of helping people. As a child, I used to treat my dolls, wishing to be a nurse or a doctor. That passion grew in me, and I had dreams of studying radiography, but financially it wasn’t possible. I knew I was needed in emergency care, and now I don’t see myself in any other field, although I would like to further my studies,” she says.
“Emergency medical services are challenging but also very rewarding. When people need it most, we are their hope. At any time of day or night, we are here to help, and this has made me love working in EMS even more.”
Notes to editor
Looking for a medical appointment? Netcare appointmed™ will make appointments for YOU with specialists practising at Netcare hospitals, GPs and dentists at Netcare Medicross medical and dental centres, and specialists at Netcare Akeso mental health facilities. Simply request an appointment online at www.netcare.co.za/Request-a-medical-appointment or phone Netcare appointmed™ on 0860 555 565, Mondays to Fridays between 08:00 and 17:00.
To find out more about the services offered through Netcare hospitals and other of the Group’s facilities, please visit www.netcare.co.za or contact the Netcare customer service centre either by email at [email protected] or phone 0860 NETCARE (0860 638 2273). Note that the centre operates Mondays to Fridays from 08:00 to 16:00.
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