Hometown Public Servant: EMS Director Courtney Terwilliger

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This week’s Hometown Public Servant is Emanuel Medical Services Director Courtney Terwilliger.

Background info on Terwilliger

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Terwilliger relocated to Emanuel County at the age of five years old.

According to Terwilliger, his father was from upstate New York and his mother was a local of Emanuel County. The family resided in North Florida where his father worked in the timber business prior to relocating to Emanuel County.

“My family moved back to Emanuel County after my grandmother died to help my grandfather with the family farm. I was five years old at the time, so Emanuel County is the only home I have known,” Terwilliger said.

Family is the reason for Terwilliger’s current placement in Emanuel County and why he chose to make Emanuel County his home.

“It’s about family. My family and my wife’s family were all in Emanuel County. The gift of family love is one of God’s greatest gifts. And, I have been blessed with this gift here in Emanuel County. My wife, Toni, and I have been married for almost 39 years. On various days she has loved me, tolerated me, or resisted (successfully so far) the urge to kill me. She remains the love of my life and my best friend. We have raised two beautiful children, Ivy and Courtney III. We have been blessed to call Emanuel County our home,” Terwilliger further stated.

Professional Background

Terwilliger has been an EMS provider for 44 years and has served in the capacity of director for the past 42 years. Terwilliger spent 10 of those years serving as both EMS Director and County Emergency Management Agency Director. In addition, he has also served as Emanuel Medical Center’s Continuous Quality Improvement coach and currently handles emergency preparedness, hazardous materials and coordinates the hospital’s security.

Apart from serving the local community, Terwilliger also enjoys the partnerships developed with the county and with individuals across the state of Georgia.

“I have been encouraged by both the county government and the hospital administration to take a leadership role in statewide initiatives. With the assistance of Butch Parrish, the Speaker of the House appointed me to the Georgia Trauma Commission, where I have served for eight years. I chaired the Georgia Association of EMS for 14 years and the State EMS Advisory Council for 16 years. I appreciate the hospital administration and medical staff’s support, particularly Dr. Clifton, EMS medical director. I appreciate the help of the county commissioners and other public safety organizations in our county. This support has given EMS the ability to serve our community better,” he stated.

Fun fact: Did you know that EMS Director Terwilliger was once certified as a firefighter at the Georgia Safety Training Center? It’s true! During a recent interview with Terwilliger, he relayed this information for public knowledge. However, he advised that EMS has been his interest and is why he chose to stay committed to Emergency Medical Services.

Education and Training

When speaking on what sparked his interest in serving the local community, Terwilliger’s reasonings were simple.

“I took the EMT course when I was young and single. Instead of spending my nights being unproductive, I chose to take the course to learn what to do in an emergency, just for my knowledge and to preoccupy my time two nights a week,” Terwilliger reflected.

According to Terwilliger, he enjoyed the training and was offered a job, which he took. Today, he states that he realized that it was not his plan, but God’s calling. For this reason, the song “Bless the Broken Road” has a lot of meaning to Terwilliger.

“My initial degree was an associate degree in biology. I went to UGA and worked on a degree in forest resources but left before I completed the program. I recently received a BA degree from East Georgia State College in fire and emergency services administration. I am very appreciative to Dr. Lee Cheek and Professor Beverely Walker for developing this degree program,” Terwilliger stated.

Directing EMS

Terwilliger states that he enjoys working with a team of professional men and women who serve our community and commends them all for their superb job performance.

“Our local EMS professionals deserve recognition as public servants. These men and women see things every day that others do not want to see and perhaps could not deal with. They do it in a professional manner, and I am proud to be associated with them,” Terwilliger stated.

“There is no day-to-day routine. The days I "think" I have planned are often "hijacked" by immediate needs. Most of my duties today are administrative, and I attend many meetings and webinars. I remain active on both the regional and state level and serve on several advisory committees. The profession is changing rapidly, and keeping up with the new opportunities and requirements is challenging,” Terwilliger ended.

EMS Employment Requirements

To be hired to work with EMS, one must go through training, take the National Registry exam, and be licensed in Georgia. There is a recertification cycle every two years that requires the medics to complete specific training objectives. In addition to that, all the paramedics with the service are credentialed in two "post-license skills." These are the use of an advanced transportation ventilator and the initiation of additional units of blood.

On board with EMS

One thing that the local community, including the medical community, may not understand is the depth and breadth of EMS professionals’ skill set. EMS ambulances carry state-of-the-art cardiac monitors capable of 12 and 15 lead EKGs. These machines can connect to the internet in the ambulance and send this information to the hospitals receiving the patient. The paramedics are skilled at interpreting these EKGs and can take the patient to the most appropriate hospital. The units can monitor oxygen levels, waveform capnography, and non-invasive blood pressure readings. EMS also carries state-of-the-art hospital-grade ventilators, LUCUS II automatic CPR devices, and IV pumps to control medications given.

A second factor that is to be recognized for EMS job performance is the change in workload over the years. According to Terwilliger, when he first entered the EMS field, the department ran an average of approximately 55 calls per month, with almost all calls transferring the patients to Emanuel Medical Center. During last week’s interview with Terwilliger, he highlighted that the EMS record volume for calls in one month is 427.

“On an average month, 25 percent of these calls involve a transfer to a more distant hospital. The most challenging issue with this is that we cannot schedule our calls. We may go for hours without a need and then have four calls come in within five minutes. It makes for a stressful situation, and COVID-19 has made it more so,” Terwilliger explained.

A third item for discussion with EMS today is the change in weight of EMS patients.

“Today, it is common to have patients that weigh over 300 pounds, and we have several that are above 500 pounds. Add to that the stretcher's weight and interject old rickey stairs, and it makes for a very hazardous situation,” Terwilliger concluded.

Thoughts from Terwilliger to the community in which he serves

“First, I would like to thank the community for allowing me to serve in this role. The second comment is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I am the second to the last person you want to deal with (the last is the funeral director). I would suggest to the citizens to put me out of business. To do this, wear your seat belts, keep your blood pressure under control, get checked for diabetes, exercise, and change your diet. An apple a day may keep the doctor away but does not stop the ambulance.”

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