For the last 21 years, Helen Sandkuhl, RN, MSN, CEN, TNS, FAEN, CHEP, administrative director-nursing, EMS, disaster, community, and trauma outreach, has been instrumental as a department leader at SSM Health Saint Louis University (SLU) Hospital. If you’ve ever stepped foot into the hospital’s emergency department, you’ve likely crossed paths with Sandkuhl. And if you’ve never met her personally, you’ve certainly heard of her.
Many emergency nurses and first responders in the St. Louis region refer to Sandkuhl as a cornerstone or pillar within the field, given all the work she’s done to educate and train those on the frontlines while helping to reinforce the special connection shared between hospitals and first responders. During her more than two decades as an employee at the hospital, she’s worn countless hats – from working as the nursing director in the emergency department to working as the administrative director of emergency, trauma, and disaster services to overseeing the hospital’s nursing and clinical community outreach services.
In fact, Sandkuhl developed some of the hospital’s emergency department specialty programs and increased health screenings and clinical outreach education to the greater community. In 2017, Sandkuhl was tasked with another challenge – overhauling the emergency medical services program as the new administrative director of SSM Health St. Louis Regional EMS. Given her long-standing history of working with EMS agencies in the Greater St. Louis area, she didn’t hesitate to take on this new role.
Sandkuhl reflects on how the program has expanded over the last five years.
“EMS has evolved significantly from what it was back in the 1970s when I first started working as a nurse,” said Sandkuhl. “Today, EMS is a 24/7/365 response service, available round-the-clock to provide emergency medical care in a prehospital setting. The work that EMS crews do in the field is critical to patient outcomes. So, anything we can do on the hospital-side to foster better communication, share resources, offer training, and create a productive working relationship between the hospital and EMS is paramount.”
In this new role, Sandkuhl helped lead a team of other EMS specialists to oversee various fire/EMS districts and 911 dispatch services throughout the St. Louis region. Her team provided training and education to local medics and EMTs, using protocols that are researched and evidenced based. She and her team also provided AHA classes and trauma updates, as well as the necessary training for EMS licensure. Sandkuhl and her EMS team implemented several other tactics, including:
- Hands-on training opportunities such as the Intubation Challenge and EMS Warrior Challenge.
- Monthly Time Critical Diagnosis (TCD) educational offerings
- Monthly education courses for EMS including a virtual option that was added when the COVID-19 pandemic began
- EMS education surveys and customer surveys which provided critical feedback that was used to improve services
- Annual EKG training with Bob Page Then, in 2021, Sandkuhl expanded the EMS team to include a bereavement specialist – Rev. Robert ‘Bob’ Crecelius – a position she created specifically with him in mind.
Rev. Crecelius was well-known at SSM Health SLU Hospital, having previously worked in pastoral care, where he counseled countless medical staff, patients, and families, while working in the emergency, trauma, ICU, and psych/ behavioral departments over the years. As the team’s bereavement specialist, Rev. Crecelius offers support to EMS personnel, but with a stronger focus on education and community outreach as well as self-care, dignity, and spiritual renewal in its many forms. “Bob has been an invaluable addition to the EMS team,” said Sandkuhl. “Having that type of mental and spiritual support is so important for those working in the field, especially given the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on all of us.”
Today, five years after she was first tasked with helping to overhaul and reorganize the hospital’s emergency medical services program, Sandkuhl is proud of what she and her team were able to accomplish. They were given a challenge and rose to the occasion.
“Thanks to Helen’s leadership, the hospital’s EMS program has flourished, helping to fulfill our Mission: Through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God,” said Kelly Baumer, vice president of clinical services at SSM Health SLU Hospital. “She went above and beyond, working to improve and expand our EMS program with more training and outreach, while establishing important connections with EMS agencies across the region.” Looking ahead, Sandkuhl has a renewed focus on the clinical and community outreach programs as well as disaster service.