Talk Story: Tito Villanueva

Tito Villanueva is the Kauai operations manager of American Medical Response, a state contracted medical transportation service that responds to 911 calls and provides advanced life support care and ambulances for residents and visitors.

AMR’s Kauai operates with six ambulance units that are strategically located in Waimea, Koloa, Kapaa, Lihue and Kilauea. A sixth ambulance stationed in Lihue is utilized for nonemergency, inter-facility patient transports.

AMR also provides interisland and critical care air transports with four fixed-wing air ambulances.

Nationally, AMR employs more than 19,000 paramedics, EMTs, doctors and other professionals and support staff, with more than 200 members stationed in Hawaii. The Garden Island caught up with Villanueva to talk about a life of providing life saving care.

The Garden Island: What is your background?

Tito Villanueva: I grew up in the Philippines, but my father’s work brought us to Hawaii when I was 14. I graduated from Kauai High School, EMT certificate at Kapiolani Community College and University of Phoenix earning a BS degree in management.

I’ve spent 29 years caring for individuals’ emergency medical needs, first as a Navy corpsman, then as an emergency medical technician. I’ve held multiple positions with some incredible organizations over the years.

TGI: Tell us about your family and how you like Kauai?

TV: My wife, Eugenia, and our two younger children, Jenny and Ty, and I live in Hanamaulu. We love the central location. Our oldest daughter, Jessica, currently attends Washington State University.

TGI: What was your path to AMR in Kauai?

TV: I joined the Kauai operation in February 1993. In May 2012, I was named operations manager. Over the years, I’ve held some interesting part-time positions in the public sector. For a time, I was the immigrant core services manager for Kauai Economic Opportunity. I also worked as a part-time EMT/firefighter at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

TGI: Did you ever have to work during a major catastrophic event?

TV: I was at the Emergency Operations Center when we had a tsunami warning; quick thinking and decisive action were required, as we had to modify our normal operational plans and be highly attuned to the potential dangers. But really, almost every situation for our paramedics is an opportunity to respond and assist someone.

TGI: What is your favorite or least favorite things about your job today or in the past?

TV: Getting to be part of a strong team of experienced, dedicated professionals — all of whom are laser-focused on providing high-quality, compassionate care — is an incredible privilege and my favorite thing about my job. It is truly an honor to support and lead our team.

TGI: What is it like to lead a group of dedicated lifesaving professionals?

TV: Exciting, rewarding and, strange as it may sound, easy. Our team members’ average length of service is 15 years. They are committed, knowledgeable and proven professionals. I have incredible confidence in this team and their ability to meet the community’s needs.

TGI: What kind of advanced medical care and equipment does AMR bring to an emergency response?

TV: Our ambulances are like emergency rooms on wheels. We have cardiac monitors with defibrillators, advanced airway management equipment, IV infusion machines, ventilators, about 35 different medications and much more.

TGI: Does it take the right kind of person to become an Mobile Intensive Care Technician (MICT)? Are they born or made, so to speak? What do they have in common?

TV: People who excel in the emergency medical services field aren’t just doing a “job,” but rather they are answering their calling. The best paramedics have an innate ability to stay calm under pressure and a passion for helping others, especially those who are the most vulnerable in our society or facing incredibly challenging circumstances. They are selfless, energetic and realize that they can make the world better by helping one person at a time.

TGI: How do MICTs deal with the intense daily encounters with victims and their families? The trauma and emotions must wear on them. How do they help one another deal with it?

TV: Everyone has different mechanisms and strategies for coping with the difficult situations. Not everyone reacts the same way; what really wears on one person might not impact another. So really, there isn’t one pat answer, but rather a laundry list — ranging from just a few minutes of downtime and a talk with a trusted colleague to formal critical incident stress debriefings and more. Part of my job as operations manager is to support our team and help provide them with the assistance they need to get through the tough times.

TGI: How do your personnel train to deal with the lack of alternate routes and congestion on Kauai?

TV: Getting to our patients quickly is incredibly important, but we can’t jeopardize safety — the safety of our own teammembers or that of fellow motorists — in doing so. The understanding that safety comes first is the foundation of our training. One of the most helpful things that motorists can do is to always yield — by slowing down (and stopping, if possible) and pulling over to the right — when they see an emergency vehicle approaching. This helps give us a quicker, safer path to the patient who needs our help.

TGI: How do you work in conjunction with the Kauai Fire Department and hospital staff?

TV: We value the strong professional relationships we have with the hospitals and KFD. KFD serves as our first responders, providing extra assistance during the first few minutes of emergency medical calls. Kauai residents may recall seeing firefighters on-board our ambulances for a bit last year, as we offered ride-along educational opportunities to the department’s new recruits. AMR, KFD and the hospitals work together to provide a seamless transition of care and give patients the best opportunities for positive outcomes.

TGI: What would you like to see for Kauai in the future as far as meeting the demand for adequate medical response?

TV: Call volume is increasing, and to meet demand, we are actively exploring the possibility of adding a rapid response vehicle or additional 911 unit. One of the most exciting things we’re working on at AMR Kauai is injury prevention — that is, helping people from needing ambulance care in the first place. We plan to launch a project that will include home visits to identify and help correct potential hazards and involve an educational component as well.

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