BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — By 6:00 a.m. most days, Doug Wattoff can be found mingling among the Mercy Health Life Flight ambulances and greeting his crew: EMTs, paramedics, ambulette attendants and mechanics.
Walking through the former car dealership at 9760 Waterville-Swanton Rd., the Mercy Health Life Flight president explained that ground operations moved from downtown Toledo to Whitehouse last month. It was a decision he made in an effort to provide a safer environment for employees and to attract a wider pool of qualified candidates who are ready to take charge of their careers and take advantage of a paid education in the process.
“If you want to begin your health care career, becoming a basic EMT is a great start. We’ll bring you on full time, sending you to school while being paid and receiving full health benefits. The educational benefits we offer are in many ways better than what I was offered in the military,” said Wattoff, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who took charge of the combined air and ground operations for Mercy earlier this year.
Completing the EMT program is just the start for some; opportunities exist to continue an education at Mercy College and move up to paramedic, nurse, physician’s assistant and more.
“It’s a great way to afford college. You can go as far as your imagination can take you,” Wattoff said. “These graduates have an opportunity to work for any of the 50 Bon Secours Mercy Health hospitals spanning the health system’s seven-state footprint. If you’re looking for a way to get your education paid for and start your career, Mercy Health Life Flight Network is a great choice.”
Mercy Health pays attention to how it treats employees and is in the process of modernizing its equipment, Wattoff said, making it a great place to work – which was among the many reasons Wattoff decided to join the group after a career that included decades of experience in air and ground programs.
“This year alone, we’ve placed orders for six new ambulances and a new medical helicopter to serve our growing communities,” he said.
As he’s attending career fairs and meeting potential employees, Wattoff is looking for candidates who are kind and compassionate and who understand that on the job, they’re seeing patients who are likely experiencing one of the most frightening moments of their lives.
“We want those who are eager to learn and want to serve the community. We are patient satisfaction-oriented, so we want people who present an image that breeds confidence,” Wattoff said. “It’s about someone looking at you and knowing you can save their life.”
Mercy Health Life Flight has been in existence since 1979, providing air ambulance services throughout Northwest Ohio, West-Central Ohio and Southwest Michigan. Last year, Mercy Health combined Life Flight with its ground operations to boost efficiency and coverage.
Helicopters are based out of four locations – Toledo, Wauseon, Bluffton and Sandusky, with more expansion planned – and staffed with critical care nurses and paramedics to stabilize those experiencing life-threatening illness or injury.
Whitehouse is the base for the ground operations, which provide two types of ambulance service: getting the very sick transferred from one hospital to another and transporting patients who are being discharged from a hospital into a nursing home or skilled facility.
For the Whitehouse ground operations, the day starts early, with employees arriving to pick up one of the fleet’s 25 ambulances to head out to area hospitals to await calls for service or to manage pre-arranged transport.
As he toured the former Steve Rogers Ford facility, Wattoff pointed out the outlets installed on each light pole in the parking lot, so ambulances can be plugged in to keep the interior at the right temperature. Inside, the former showroom and offices are being prepared to provide space for the staff to meet and train.
“This is a much better environment for our employees,” Wattoff said. “It’s a small but wonderful place to come to work.”
By early October, Mercy Health will hold an open house for the community to meet the crew, watch a Life Flight landing and tour the facility.