Eleven years ago NASCAR racer Jerry Nadeau was blazing hot on the Richmond Raceway… until he barreled into a turn and smashed into a concrete wall. The wreck registered at 121 times the force of gravity — three to six times the force that had sent other NASCAR drivers to the hospital. He had to be cut out of the car.
Suffering a skull fracture, concussion, collapsed lung and several broken ribs, he was rushed to Virginia Commonwealth University Health System main hospital downtown. As grim as his injuries were, he was fortune in one way: VCU was nationally renowned for its emergency medical services. Doctors put Nadeau in a medically induced coma, and he didn’t regain consciousness for three weeks. But he survived to live a semblance of a normal life.
A new study published by the Richmond’s Future think tank, “The Future of Health Care in the Richmond Region,” suggests that, thanks to pockets of world-class excellence like that at VCU, emergency medical services (EMS) could provide the basis for an innovation cluster and a source of economic growth. Though a small part of the total health care economy, EMS accounted for $48.3 billion in economic activity nationally in 2010, and was growing.
The Richmond region has other assets in the field, including the Richmond Ambulance Authority, which is known as a world-class provider and innovator. The authority uses state-of-the-art predictive modeling to stage its garage-less ambulances around the city, and has been at the forefront of testing artificial blood, cardiac arrest survival and chest pain procedures in the ambulance. Richmond also is home to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which manages the nation’s organ transplant system. UNOS collaborates with emergency medical services around the country to recover and distribute organs nationwide. Additionally, VCU faculty are internationally recognized for their expertise in resuscitation outcomes and traumatic brain injuries from blasts and bullets.
That expertise, suggests the Richmond’s Future, is a non-traditional economic development asset that the region should build upon. States the report: “The Economic Development Offices in the Richmond Region should collaborate on an innovation ecosystem strategy to promote and provoke disruptive thought, apply inspired research, experimentation and accelerated implementation to attract companies serving the emergency medical services sector.”
As part of a larger strategy on leveraging health care for economic growth, the authors advance several recommendations: (1) the region should highlight its excellence in EMS; (2) corporate recruitment should target major corporations, equipment suppliers and other vendors in the EMS field; (3) the region should lobby to have the EMS Today annual meeting for professionals to meet in Richmond on a regular basis.
Bacon’s bottom line: EMS may be Richmond’s best-kept secret. I had no idea that the region was a standout in this way. As a practical matter, I don’t know if innovation linkages can be built between the EMS heavyweights in the region as they often can be in biotech, IT or other industries, but the idea is worth a serious look. EMS may never amount to more than an economic niche, but it could be a niche that attracts highly skilled workers, technicians and scientists and one that generates a lot of new medical devices and procedures. Richmond’s Future should be commended for its outside-the-box thinking. Let’s get moving!