Anna Bernhardt talks about Flight Paramedic and Base Safety Rep, Mark Neill, from our Alpine, CA base.


What do you appreciate most about Mark?

Mark is my rock star. He is curious and always seeking new learning opportunities.

He is quick to observe potential safety issues and he takes them head on.

How do you think Mark contributes to the community-focused nature of REACH?

It’s all in his attitude. Mark makes it his goal to keep everyone he works with safe. He speaks up when he sees something that could become an issue and he really works with me to improve things. He even volunteered to help be part of the Safety SOP re-write.


We sit down with Mark.


How long have you been working for REACH?

I believe my hire date was January 1, 2011, so about 5 years.

It’s actually kind of a funny story … I interviewed with REACH in September of 2010 and got hired in January of 2011. However, for the first month, I didn’t actually work with any patients. I hadn’t gone through academy training yet because they didn’t have enough people for a full class. So, for the whole month of January, I just did ridealongs with the crews and observed. By February, they finally had enough people to start the training.

How would you summarize your current job?

I think it’s really difficult to summarize the work that each person at REACH is tasked to do. When you work for a company like ours, you want to see it do well in the communities that you serve. So I may be just a flight paramedic by title, but I am also a base safety rep, I help support business development, I help support operations and I help support marketing – all of our departments really. And it’s all through my actions.

We are held to such a high standard for our positions and we all really rise to the occasion.

So, I guess the best way to summarize it is that I am a man of many hats.

What do you appreciate most about being a safety representative?

My involvement in change. The base safety reps get to cultivate the culture here. We have the ability to say ‘ah you know what, that’s a problem and we really need to look into this a little bit more.’

The safety program at REACH is the net that holds us together – it is the common core. The attitude is always that REACH would rather have a crew turn down a flight if it means that they are safe. And by doing that, it draws us closer to the patients we do get because it means that we are focused enough to think clearly and to always do what is right for them.

What would you say inspires you most to give back to the people you work with?

I know it sounds cliché to say this, but it’s that these people are my family. We are a gigantic dysfunctional family that truly loves each other. We all strive to go to work, do what is right for our patients, and go home to our families.

On the hard days at work, what motivates you to keep going?

My work family. Everyone at my base is great about supporting one another and helping you get through the rough days.

And a long time ago I learned that if I think I have had a bad day or a bad call, I can go into CQI and see someone else’s chart and instantly be reminded that there is always someone else out there that is having a rough day too.

In your opinion, what can others learn from volunteering or giving back?

You learn a lot about yourself. And what’s really great is that at some point in time, it stops feeling like you are volunteering or taking on more work, but more like you’ve been given a gift. You feel rewarded by helping others.

What would you say has been the most rewarding experience of your career with REACH?

I think there is something you can pull from your experience each time you are having a rough day and by falling back on those, it can help you get through whatever you are feeling.

On the days when my 3-year-old is acting like a 3-year-old, I think about a 12-year-old boy that I transported that had a severe skull fracture and was practically on death’s doorstep. Now he is up, walking, and healthy.

When I am having a rough day or am feeling a lot of self-doubt, I look back at the integrity of this company and the people that I work with and I try to remember that we all strive to do better each day.

Who is in your family?

My wife Erin and my 3-year-old son Benjamin.

Would you rather have one wish granted now or 3 wishes granted over the span of ten years?

I’d rather have 3 wishes granted over the span of ten years. I would have one wish granted and then spend some time learning and growing from it so that I could pick something even better for my next wish.

What shows are you watching on TV right now?

Code Black because I love to see how wrong it is being done in Hollywood. I am also watching Madame Secretary, Castle, and Undateable.

REACH Community.

By Mark Neill, Flight Paramedic, REACH 21, Alpine, CA

You have probably heard the term REACH Culture. Have you heard the term REACH Community? I hope not, because I just made it up. In general, a community is a social group of any size whose members often have a common cultural and historical heritage. REACH Culture is a part of our heritage.

Learning from our mistakes and acknowledging our errors in a Just Culture has been instrumental in forming a community of people that strive to do what is best for the patient. Our community is based on experience, communication, and trust in each other. Often, when we gain experience, tasks become routine. But why do we let this happen? One reason may be efficiency. How often do you pull the STOP CHECKLIST out and read it line by line? You may have done this when it was updated, but I’d bet dimes to dollars you don’t do it now. Why not? Because the items on that checklist are firmly ingrained in you. Is this a good thing? Probably not.

I was recently watching a movie called “The Martian” with Matt Damon. I was reminded of how easy it is for routines to cause a good safety net to unravel, and how important a safety community is,  and how much I don’t want to go to Mars. Now if you haven’t seen the movie I don’t think this will spoil anything, so you’re safe to continue reading. OK, so Matt Damon’s character has been stranded on Mars for over a year, and during the latter part of this time, he has been practicing, rehearsing, and routinely going over his exit strategy. The time comes to finally venture out to a rendezvous point. He has all his stuff packed and ready to go, he’s suited up in his Martian space suit, he signs his name on the habitat wall, and he’s about to walk out the door. Only then does he realize that he has nearly walked out into the uninhabitable environment of Mars without his helmet! All this prep work and practice at routine and running checklists would have been for not because of two things: change and drift. What changed you may ask? He signed his name on the wall instead of picking up his helmet. Why? He drifted from the normal checklist. My point isn’t that we need more checklists, it’s that when there is a change from the routine, drift is exposed. That drift probably won’t be apparent to a person until it’s too late. Had Matt Damon’s character been stranded with someone else, communication, trust, and a double check may have aided him and the helmet scene wouldn’t have happened – of course, neither would the movie. I’m sure you can think of a time when the routine went a little sideways. How far did you come to forgetting your helmet?

This is why we have a community of safety conscious people from our AMT’s all the way up to senior leadership. We have resources like the GOMs, SOPs, protocols, and people like the Director of Safety, Clinical Managers and base safety representatives. These individuals give us margins to our inherently risky missions, but we aren’t safe because we have a checklist or GOM or a base safety rep … it’s a community’s mindset to go out and do the right thing: use the checklists, watch for fatigue in your coworkers, and identify areas that need improvement. It is even better when the community watches out for each other, communicates with each other, and understands that it’s best to break routine every now and then. In the words of Dr. McDonald, “It is not enough to do your best. You must prepare to be the best.”