Portrait of Nathalie Jones
Nathalie Jones is a communications specialist in Mississippi MED-COM and a longtime emergency services employee.
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People of the U: Nathalie Jones

Published on Monday, April 13, 2020

By: Ruth Cummins

Nathalie Jones and her colleagues that spend 12-hour shifts sharply focused on a bank of computer screens are all called communications specialists.

In reality, they’re a human communications center, serving as traffic controllers and the lifeline for emergency responders who often fight the clock to get patients to the level of care that best meets their degree of sickness or injury.

“We do a lot,” says Jones, a paramedic, of her work at Mississippi MED-COM, the state’s 24/7 communications hub located at UMMC. MED-COM serves the needs of emergency responders, health care providers and disaster response agencies.

Just a sampling:

  • They are dispatchers for UMMC’s AirCare, connecting the medical helicopter transport with emergency responders statewide at the scenes of shootings, traumatic vehicle wrecks and life-threatening episodes such as heart attack or stroke. “We arrange for AirCare to meet with them, and we arrange transfers for hospitals for critically sick patients who are going from one facility to another.”
  • They notify UMMC’s trauma team of incoming patients. Jones and crew also dispatch care for critically ill infants. “Typically, we go get them and take them back to UMMC,” she said.
  • They are a first line of action for any disaster in the state. “We facilitate all ER-to ER-transfers going in and out of UMMC.”
  • They monitor the weather, which affects air and ground transport and can be the cause of disasters or vehicle accidents. “We might need to notify other hospitals that they need to evacuate into their hallways because a tornado is headed straight to them,” Jones said.
  • MED-COM is the clearinghouse for codes announced throughout the hospital, from Code Red for fire to Code Blue for an emergency such as cardiac or respiratory arrest, to Code Pink for an infant or child abduction.
  • They help determine which hospitals in the state have available beds for patients, and who should go where. “If you have a transplant patient in the state of Mississippi, they’re ours,” Jones said. “We get patients from Alabama, Tennessee, everywhere.

“Our biggest responsibility is the aircraft,” she said of not just AirCare, but private medical helicopter transports that bring patients to UMMC. “We try to keep up and monitor aviation channels so that we know who is coming in and out of the area.”

That’s in addition to making sure too many helicopters aren’t trying to land on UMMC’s helipad atop the ICU Tower, she said. “You have to keep up with who went where, and who needs to come back and get their flight crew.”

Jones is part of the glue that holds the operation together, said Brooke Courtney, assistant manager over paramedics at MED-COM. All of the communications specialists are either paramedics or emergency medical technicians.

“From the time that we hired Nathalie, she has been the biggest team player that we have,” Courtney said. “She works with a forward -thinking process and view of the whole picture for the patient during the transfer and transport process.

“Her knowledge of our system, not only MED-COM but UMMC as a whole, is a tremendous help in the patient transfer to UMMC.”

Jones works 12-hour night shifts, seven days on and seven days off. “I love it,” said Jones, who worked as a paramedic with both American Medical Response and Pafford before joining Med-Com two years ago.

She occasionally works day shifts to stay in tune with how they are different from nights. “At night, we don’t have as many clinics calling to transfer someone to the ED,” she said. “There are more physicians on duty during the day, and all of management.”

As a communications specialist, Jones said, she appreciates not being exposed to the elements as she was as an ambulance paramedic. “Here, it’s warm inside in the winter and cool inside in the summer,” she said. “We aren’t out on the streets, trying to get people out of a vehicle after a wreck. I get to see what happens after the ambulance drops off a patient. It’s a different side completely.”

Working for Med-Com as a communications specialist is not for everyone, Jones said. “Some people can’t multitask or deal with the stress very well,” she said. “That’s one reason why we have paramedics. The job can be chaotic, but you’ve already been exposed to chaos.”

Before entering the emergency medicine field, Jones said, she was a stay-at-home mom for 16 years. She cherishes the time she gets to spend with her nine-month-old granddaughter.

“I have a dog who is super pouty when she is at my house,” said Jones, a Madison resident. “When she started crawling, he looked at me like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s moving!’”

Jones, Courtney said, “plays a large part in our safety culture with our transport teams with her attentiveness to details. Nathalie’s customer service is top notch, and has received many kudos from not only our team members, but outside physicians that we interact with on a daily basis.

“She is an amazing asset to not only our team, but UMMC as a whole.”

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