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A bridge connecting patients to care: A conversation with Genta Balla of Patient Transfer Services

“I like to call myself a 911 service for hospitals,” says Gentiana (Genta) Balla.
Genta has worked as an Interfacility Emergency Medical Call Taker (IEMCT) at BC Emergency Health Service’s Patient Transfer Network for over 15 years.
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Genta also sometimes works as an acting charge, coordinating and leading the other interfacility emergency medical call takers. She was recently recognized with the BCEHS Tom St. Laurent Leadership Memorial Award, recognizing her exceptional work and the support and mentorship she provides her colleagues. 

A behind the scenes role at the heart of the health-care system

From April 14 to 20, we’re recognizing National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. When most people think of the work emergency dispatchers and call takers do, they imagine responding to 911 calls from members of the public who’ve had a medical crisis or an accident. However, through Patient Transfer Services, BCEHS also helps move patients between different medical facilities across the province – and beyond – making sure patients get the level of care they need. 

IEMCTs like Genta are at the frontline of the patient transfer system. 

“In my job, I’ll get a call from a doctor who might say for instance ‘I have a trauma patient who needs to go to a hospital with a higher level of care immediately,’” says Genta. “I will log the call with the appropriate health authority and then contact the receiving hospital and get a specialist physician on the line. My job is to connect the two medical providers so they can discuss the patient’s condition, then decide on the appropriate level of care for the patient’s needs and how urgently they need to be moved. Once a decision has been made, then we need to find a bed for the patient and arrange a ground or air ambulance to move them.”

For complex patient transfers, there may be multiple medical and service providers who need to be involved in a call. IEMCTs are responsible for bringing the right people to the call at the right time. Patient Transfer Services also coordinates repatriations of patients, returning them to their home communities when they’re ready to move to a lower level of care or are terminally ill and wish to receive palliative services in their own community.  

A lifeline in every corner of the province

The work of Patient Transfer Services is particularly crucial in a province as large and geographically diverse as British Columbia, where some patients may develop urgent medical needs in remote areas with limited health care facilities. 

“We do transfers from every rural nursing station, every health-care site — no matter how big or small,” says Genta. 
Call takers like Genta are a particularly important lifeline for health-care workers in rural and remote locations, who may find themselves caring for very ill patients with complex medical needs without the support of a care team that would be available in a larger hospital. 

"They know any time of the day or night, they can call us and be connected with a physician,” says Genta. 

Recognition for a career of exceptional service
This year, Genta was surprised to find out she’d received the Tom St. Laurent Leadership Award. This prestigious honour was created in memory of Tom St. Laurent, a highly respected paramedic with over 30 years of service who passed away suddenly in 2015. The award is given to an employee in recognition of their above and beyond approach to leadership, embodying the caring, compassionate, and supportive nature Tom was known for. 

Genta was nominated for the honour by her colleague interfacility emergency medical call taker Jarmaine Yuscon. In her nomination for Genta, Jarmaine writes about how Genta always goes the extra mile for her colleagues, never hesitating to step in and help out during challenging shifts. 

“Gentiana holds a great relationship with everyone she works with including her coworkers, leadership, and the stakeholders,” Jarmaine writes. “Because of this, everyone is able to rely on Gentiana in more ways than one. I have taken a few calls where a caller will ask to speak with Gentiana because they trust her abilities in ensuring a job well done.”

When BCEHS Chief Operations Officer Jennie Helmer and Executive Director of Employee Experience Carly Jokic stopped by to see Genta on the dispatch floor, she assumed they were just there to greet staff. She was shocked to find out they ‘d come to tell her she’d won the Tom St. Laurent Award.

“I felt very happy and very humbled at the same time,” Genta says. “It’s a recognition I’ll never forget in my life.”

Being part of the hardest moments and the happiest

In her role, Genta helps coordinate the care of every possible kind of patient – from people with multiple traumatic injuries to premature babies to patients with advanced cancer to expectant mothers about to give birth. As for so many courageous staff at BCEHS, Genta’s job often involves hearing about tragic and heartbreaking situations. 

“The sad stories are the hardest, Genta says, “but we honour them. Even in those moments, I know I’m helping somehow by connecting the physicians together to help the patients in the hardest moments of their lives.” 

Mixed in with the difficult times are also many rewarding moments, when Genta knows she’s the bridge connecting a patient to the right level of care. 

“My favorite part of my job is when I know the patient has gotten to the services they need,” says Genta, “when they’ve gotten to the hospital, when they’re getting the surgery that will save their life. Because at the end, that’s the goal of every transfer: getting the patient the care they need.” 

SOURCE: A bridge connecting patients to care: A conversation with Genta Balla of Patient Transfer Services ( )
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