Luther Fortson, MD

Luther Fortson, MD

Luther Fortson, MD  

Paramedic Programs Begin in America  

    In 1969, Dr. Luther Fortson, the medical officer for Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, had become intrigued as to the ability of NASA to monitor the Apollo astronauts EKG and other vital signs via radio telemetry during that year’s first moon landing mission. Kennestone Hospital had just opened one of the Nation's first Coronary Care Units (CCU). Dr. Fortson envisioned if such a telemetry system could enable Kennestone CCU nurses to monitor each patient’s EKG from a central CCU nursing station.

    Dr. Fortson was also familiar with the ambulance Mobile Coronary Care Unit (MCCU) programs that had been instituted by Dr. William Grace at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City using a hospital based step van ambulance staffed with a cardiologist, a medical intern, nurse and several technicians. He was aware of the accomplishments of both Dr. Eugene Nagle and Jim Hirschmann using the City of Miami Fire Department rescue personnel and by Dr. James Warren and Richard Lewis at the Ohio State University-Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio in conjunction with the Columbus Fire Department. The UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles and the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington were also experimenting with similar programs using fire department staffed ambulances.

    The Los Angeles County Fire Department’s “Heart Car” paramedic vehicle required that a registered nurse be present to administer paramedic procedures until the Wentworth-Townsend Act was finally passed in 1971. Also, in 1969, the Haywood County Volunteer Rescue Squad in North Carolina had also instituted a paramedic mobile coronary care program under the medical direction of Dr. Ralph Fleicher.

    At the same time, Bo Pounds had also been intrigued with the NASA telemetry program and what these cities were doing in this previous unexplored area. Bo Pounds envisioned instituting a specially equipped and staffed Metro Ambulance vehicle to extend the specialized care capabilities of Kennestone's CCU unit to patients residing within the hospitals service area. Bo Pounds then approached Dr. Fortson and presented a comprehensive plan to use a Marietta based specially equipped Metro Ambulance Service vehicle which would be staffed with paramedics under Dr. Fortson’s direct medical supervision.  Dr. Fortson approved the concept and then wrote Georgia's Attorney General (AG), Arthur Bolton, for a legal opinion that such use of paramedics would not violate the Georgia Medical Practice Act.  The AG reviewed existing Georgia laws and issued an "Attorney General” (“AG”) opinion that stated it would be legal for such Metro paramedics to administer I.V. fluids and drugs to patients as well as resuscitate and defibrillate cardiac patients. This approval was dependent on the program being accepted by the local county medical society, the sponsoring hospital and has the close medical supervision by a physician under whose medical license such program would operate. Without the existence of formal laws authorizing paramedics in Georgia, the AG opinion took on the force of law.  

The Metro Ambulance Paramedic Program Begins in 1970  

    In 1969, Metro had begun hiring former Vietnam War returning medics who then completed both the 8 hour Red Cross Standard First Aid and the 16 hour Advanced First Aid Course. They then completed the recently created 24 hour EMT Emergency Care Practical Course sponsored by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) in the Spring of 1969. These same medics were then selected to complete a special 56 hour Coronary Care Course at Kennestone which was the same being taught to the CCU nurses.

    Jane Carter, RN was the head nurse for the Kennestone CCU and served as the course administrator and both Dr. Fortson and Jane Carter instructed the Metro Ambulance Service paramedic students. The Webster Dictionary at that time defined the word “Paramedic” as …”one who assists a physician.” So the decision was made, like other cities, to call these Metro Ambulance Service students “paramedics” and the program was called the Metro Ambulance/Kennestone Hospital Paramedic Project. The students completed a total of 56 hours of training which included classroom presentations, becoming highly proficient in the administration of CPR and airway adjunct support devices; the administration of Dextrose 50%, Normal Saline and Ringers Lactate intravenous (IV) fluids; the administration of 1:10,000 Epinephrine, Sodium Bicarbonate, Calcium Chloride, Atropine, Lidocaine and Talwin and to defibrillate. The medics spent clinical hours in the CCU assisting nurses with patient care and in the operating room where they intubated.  

Keywords: Kennestone, marietta, metro ambulance, bo pounds, jane carter, luther fortson,

Last Revision Date: 2/27/11 - 8:59 AM

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