Ornge: Reducing risk through partnerships

As a transport medicine organization, , like most first response officials and crews, knows firsthand that the consequences of a traumatic injury can be devastating. Particularly during the summer months, Ornge medical crews respond to accident scenes on a regular basis, rapidly transporting patients to specialized centres. Alongside the devastating impact a traumatic injury can have on an individual’s health, the cost of a critical injury can express itself emotionally, financially, and can become a lifelong burden to a patient and their family.

While not all traumatic injuries can be avoided, many are preventable: by identifying potential dangers involved in undertaking risky activities, individuals can avoid those dangers more easily, reducing their chance of injury. Through its partner organization J Smarts, Ornge works to prevent injuries, and is leading the transport medicine industry in providing a proactive approach to injury management.

Established in 2007, J Smarts is a charitable organization dedicated to reducing the frequency and severity of preventable injuries amongst children and youths. It offers risk management courses through schools, athletic organizations, and community groups throughout Ontario to students aged 10 to 17 – the ages during which a person is most likely to receive a sports-related injury. Its programming, which encourages “life learning through sports,” teaches students to think about the risks involved in participating in extreme sports while still promoting a healthy lifestyle.

“Traditionally, the paramedicine industry has been reactive in dealing with traumatic injuries,” says Sean Teed, Lead Educator with Ornge’s Academy of Transport Medicine. “J Smarts provides the kind of messaging to fill the gap in being proactive in dealing with injury prevention.”

Proactive risk management is the key to the J Smarts curriculum. Its cornerstone teaching tool, the Circle Check, helps students to assess their situation before engaging in a potentially risky activity. Based on the safety check performed by Ornge pilots before each flight, the Circle Check asks students four questions: “Should I?” prompts students to evaluate their physical surroundings for potential hazards; “Could I?” allows students to ask themselves whether they have the skill, confidence, and physical wellbeing to complete an activity; “Would I?” asks students to look at their motivation behind trying a new sport; and “What If?” makes students aware of the possible outcomes of an activity. By asking students to fully examine their participation in a potentially risky activity, J Smarts empowers them to make their own decisions, helping them build awareness of the consequences of their actions while encouraging them to participate in a safe and active lifestyle.

Because of the nature of their work, many members of Ornge’s staff take an active interest in helping to bring J Smarts into their communities. Rob Zwanenburg, Manager of Maintenance Planning and Analysis for Ornge, sought to bring J Smarts training to whitewater kayaking in his home community of Cornwall, after recognizing that the Circle Check tool was a “good fit” for students at his kayaking club. “Kayaking is an extreme sport with the potential for head injuries, and J Smarts is helping kayakers understand the importance of wearing safety equipment,” he explains. “Making them aware of the risks around them means they are more likely to properly manage those risks while still pushing themselves on the river.”

A major benefit of the J Smarts risk management program lies in how it applies to situations beyond athletics alone. After inviting J Smarts trainers to deliver their curriculum at his son’s high school, Teed noted that students were encouraged to “Circle Check” risky activities dealing with social activities and peer pressure. “Kids are receptive to risk messaging,” he says. “It strikes a tone with them because it doesn’t tell them no – it brings those risks into the open, and gives students a chance to speak about them clearly.”

“For me, it was never a question of if I would get involved with J Smarts, but how,” says Jean Marcellin, a pilot with Ornge Air operating out of Timmins, Ontario. After being introduced to J Smarts through Ornge, Marcellin found opportunities to promote the Circle Check in his own community. “Although small, the J Smarts team is really having a positive impact on the youth of Ontario. I had the chance to get involved with J Smarts through a Young Eagles event in Timmins, where we integrated the J Smarts safety model into aviation culture and technology.”

As the need for transport medicine services grows, so too will the need for preventable health-care strategies. By partnering with J Smarts, Ornge is helping to reduce the number of preventable injuries for students throughout Ontario, as well as the need for responsive trauma care as a whole.