For 29 years, Dr. Steven Newman has treated Longboat Key residents who have a medical emergency and call for an ambulance. But the majority of those patients doesn’t know his name and have never seen his face.
Newman has been the Sarasota County Emergency Medical Services medical director since July 1984. As part of that position and through individual agreements, Newman also holds the title of medical director of emergency services for Sarasota County, Longboat Key, North Port, Englewood, Sarasota County Technical Institute and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
That means Newman allows more than 600 firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians throughout Sarasota County to use his medical license seven days a week.
When asked if having all those emergency responders work under his license on a daily basis makes him nervous, Newman quickly responds.
“I don’t have trouble sleeping at night,” Newman said. “I sleep just fine.”
In July 2014, Newman will have held the post for 30 years.
What that job entails is much more than a 40-hour-per-week job.
In his prime, Newman worked 180 hours a month as an emergency room doctor at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and its various clinics, while working an additional 40 hours per month or more training emergency responders the ins and outs of emergency medicine for their shifts.
Today, the 63-year-old works approximately 110 hours per month at the hospital and clinics and more than 50 hours training and working with emergency responders.
Newman evaluates and treats more than 5,000 patients a year. But because his medical license allows so many people to use his medical license to help people, his license alone, he estimates, helps treats 50,000 to 60,000 patients a year.
“I consider it a privilege and an honor that my license is helping so many people,” Newman said. “Not many doctors can say their license is helping so many.”
During the past 29 years, Newman has worked with five Longboat Key Fire Rescue chiefs.
“I watched Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi work his way up the ladder in Sarasota,” Newman said.
Florida statutes and the Department of Health require that every licensed emergency medical services provider employ or contract a licensed emergency medical services doctor to serve as its medical director.
That’s because firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians don’t possess medical licenses but are able to perform medical procedures through the training and guidance they receive through directors like Newman.
“My primary job as medical director is to develop protocols, which act as recipes for care, that allow those to operate at the scene of an accident or at the home of an injured patient using standards I help to create,” Newman said.
Those standards have changed over the years. Every two years, Newman is charged with updating those practices, so those using his license have the best information and practices possible to both treat patients and resuscitate them.
“When I first started, paramedics with heart attack patients were taught to warm the bodies,” Newman said. “Now we know that patients that are cooled to 92 degrees Fahrenheit improve survival rates tremendously.”
You name it, Newman has developed a Sarasota County emergency protocol for it. Those include cardiac arrest, burns, emergency childbirth, pediatric respiratory distress and allergic reactions, just to name a few.
“It’s an ominous task for a medical director to develop protocols that encompass all of the projected emergencies that might develop,” Newman said.
Longboat Key stands out
When asked what makes Longboat Key Fire Rescue stand out from the other departments he serves as medical director, Newman explains that Longboat Key firefighter paramedics use cutting-edge technologies and practices. Longboat Key was also the first department to completely computerize its medical records system, a system that others in Sarasota County soon emulated.
Newman and his assistant medical director each take two weeks out of the month to be on call 24 hours a day for any emergency medical services personnel who might need their advice while on the scene treating a patient. Newman, though, told the Longboat Observer that Longboat Key firefighter paramedics don’t have to pick up the phone and dial him very often. In fact, he can’t recall the last time he received a call from them.
Newman calls the support the town’s residents and the commissioners give to its fire department “progressive.”
“The town’s residents, more than any other jurisdiction I oversee, consider this fire department part of their family,” Newman said. “That shows in their day-to day-operations.”
Newman is at one of the Key’s fire stations the first Wednesday of every month, either training new personnel, teaching a new method or class, or riding with the firefighter paramedics in the ambulance on a call or following them in his vehicle.
He calls the “ride time” he spends with the emergency responders one of the best perks of his job.
“I’m not a back room rubber stamp medical director demanding rules and regulations be followed,” Newman said. “I’m bunkered up with the men in gear following them to a scene in my car that’s equipped with lights and a siren.”
When asked what makes Longboat Key stand out the most during the calls he has witnessed, Newman said he can’t single any call out.
“But they have pulled off some pretty amazing water rescues and their cardiac- arrest survival rate is at the top of the spectrum in Sarasota County,” Newman said.
Medical director recognition
On July 17, in an Orlando hotel banquet hall, Newman will receive the state’s Emergency Medical Services Raymond H. Alexander Medical Director of the Year Award for 2013.
Newman was chosen as the state’s top medical director, and Dezzi calls the honor “a very distinguished award that Dr. Newman deserves.” Dezzi plans to be there when Newman accepts the award.
But the humble soft-spoken medical director downplays the honor during an interview last week at the north fire station on Longboat Key.
“I’m humbled to receive the award, but it’s really the firefighters and paramedics that should be receiving this for all they do on the scene each and every day.”
If he had his wish, instead of accepting the award in Orlando next month, Newman said he would be on a shift with some of the men he’s helped train.
“I love to get bunkered up and get dirty,” said Newman, who used to be a member of a volunteer fire department in a Los Angeles suburb. “I respect what those guys do so much and stay out of the way. I am only there to be of assistance if they need me.”
When asked if his appearance on shifts and emergency response calls has ever helped to save any lives, Newman downplays his response with a soft-spoken response, followed by a smile.
“A couple of times it was a good thing I was on scene to provide assistance,” Newman said. “I’ve saved a couple of phone calls from having to be made, let’s put it that way. But those guys know what they’re doing, and I rarely have to do anything but observe.”
Newman said it’s his goal in the future to reduce his hospital hours to 60 hours a month and his emergency medical services hours to 15 hours a month, but you get the sense he’s not serious about reducing his workload as the words come out of his mouth.
He then contradicts his reduction of medical assistance hours in his next sentence.
“If I retired or reduced my medical director hours, I would be selling the system short,” said Newman, who said he has at least another five to seven years of fulltime work left in him. “It’s extremely important a medical director walk the walk and talk the talk. Those guys have to see me on the scene with them, slugging it out with them from time to time or my credibility starts falling.”
Dezzi, who considers Newman a longtime friend and mentor, said Newman’s credibility couldn’t be higher than it is right now at the north-and-south fire stations on Longboat Key.
“Every one of my guys has learned so much from Dr. Newman,” Dezzi said. “We are an extension of him and his work.”
Dezzi said what he has learned the most from Newman is his calm demeanor in any emergency situation.
“I’ve never once seen him yell at a nurse or lose it in a stressful situation that involved saving someone’s life,” Dezzi said. “He’s always calm, cool and collected. We try to emulate that trait out here on the job.”
When asked what the best part of his job is as medical director for Longboat Key and other departments he serves as medical director, Newman doesn’t hesitate to provide a response.
“That would be receiving a patient while I’m in the ER from a crew I helped train that has brought the patient back to life for me to work on,” Newman said. “Working with those guys to resuscitate a life together is the best part of my job.”