Doreen Mitchell, EMT 2
2005 Grand Prize Winner (Healthcare Professional Category)
Medical Assistant
Karuk Tribal Health Program, Happy Camp, CA
“ Being one-and-half hours from our base hospital and out of radio and cell phone contact for much of that time, what we do for the patient in the back of an ambulance can make a critical difference in whether that patient lives or dies. The teamwork that comes with a good crew is a constant source of energy and inspires me to do the best job I can.”
Doreen Mitchell, EMT-2
There are movie heroes and superheroes, and then there’s Doreen Mitchell – a true real-life hero, whose everyday experiences and life-saving rescues are as touching and dramatic as any you’ll see on the big screen. When the stakes are high and the chips are down, Mitchell rises to the occasion – providing critical medical care to people isolated by geography or circumstance.

She is one of 14 honorees nationwide to win the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award, and one of only four Grand Prize Winners, in 2005. The award is granted annually by Cherokee Uniforms – a leading designer and manufacturer of healthcare apparel – to recognize nurses and other non-physician healthcare professionals who demonstrate exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation and have a positive impact on others’ lives.

Mitchell, who has worked in healthcare for three decades, is a full-time medical assistant at a small health clinic in Happy Camp, Calif., that is part of the Karuk Tribal Health Program. She and the physician, nurse and nurse practitioner provide medical care and testing for up to 40 people per day – area residents, including Karuk Native Americans (a heritage she shares), as well as tourists drawn to the area’s natural beauty and outdoor activities.

The clinic and the Happy Camp Volunteer Ambulance Service represent the only medical care in the rural, 100-mile timberland region near the California-Oregon border, crisscrossed by rivers, mountains and winding roads. At the service, which logged 300 calls in 2005, Mitchell is the president and one of two volunteer emergency medical technicians (EMT).

“Time and time again, Doreen Mitchell has put the welfare of other people first, often at great physical risk or personal inconvenience to herself,” said Wendell Mobley, who directs the national award for Cherokee. “But she is not only a giving person. She is also an extremely skilled medical professional and an all-around courageous human being. It is a pleasure to give her Cherokee’s highest Inspired Comfort Award honor – the Grand Prize.”

As the Grand Prize Winner in the award’s Non-Physician Healthcare Professional category, Mitchell receives an all-expense-paid cruise for two to the Cayman Islands, a crystal award and a wardrobe of Cherokee healthcare apparel. She also will appear in the nationally distributed Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award 2006 calendar.

A 52-year-old wife and mother of three, Mitchell was nominated for the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award by her sister, Nadine McElyea, who described the “physically and emotionally taxing” situations Mitchell encounters in her EMT service: “One time, she spent over an hour in the river, supporting a diver with a broken neck. At a forest fire, she was at the scene of a fire engine accident that killed three firefighters. After caring for the survivors and loading them on a helicopter to the hospital, she had a heart attack and got her own ride in a helicopter.” Mitchell, irritated by her attack’s “inconvenient” timing, put herself on a monitor while waiting for medical transport and also called her doctor to discuss her symptoms.

She once participated in a foggy, 32-hour search-and-rescue mission to find an injured hiker in the forest, during which she attended to several fellow rescue members who fell ill or got hurt. “I like and enjoy my work because I get to work with people when they are at their best or at their worst. When a person is pushed to the limits of their capacity to function with care they come through like champs,” she commented. “We get out of this life what we put into it, and I see that on a daily basis in a positive manner.”

At the ambulance service, Mitchell is one of only two EMTs certified to provide advanced life support services. “Doing our job well is critical to the health of our patients. It is usually 1-1/2 hours to our base hospital, and we do not have radio contact with our base hospital physician until we are five minutes from that hospital,” she explained. “We can use cell phones for contact but that, too, is very limited in coverage. Because of the distance involved, what we do for the patient in the back of the ambulance can make a critical difference in whether that patient lives or dies.”

Admired for her calm confidence in crisis situations, Mitchell often gives food and gas money out of her own pocket to people in need. “In my job, I have to provide ‘emotional care,’ too,” she said. She has established a group to address drug and alcohol abuse and serves on task forces to bring dental, mental and behavioral health services to the area, which has many poor, uninsured and unemployed residents who must travel considerable distances for that treatment.

Since the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award was established in 2003, more than 3,400healthcare professionals have been nominated in the Registered Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse, Student Nurse and Non-Physician Healthcare Professional categories. A panel of nursing professionals and Cherokee representatives evaluates nominations and grants the awards.

For every nomination in 2005, Cherokee Uniforms donated $1 to Nurses House, a national fund that provides short-term financial assistance to registered nurses facing serious hardship. Cherokee donated $1,300 to Nurses House in 2005.
Nominated by: Nadine McElyea  
Doreen is a caring, compassionate, and very capable Medical Assistant at the small rural clinic where she works. It is her volunteer work as an EMT II with the local Happy Camp Volunteer Ambulance Services for which she should be honored.
She is one of only two volunteers who can provide Advanced Life Support services when needed. During any year she has handled a gamut of medical emergencies and injuries. Her volunteer week sometimes runs into 20-30 hours as our nearest hospital is 70 miles away. This time is in addition to a 40+ hour work week.
Doreen is known for her gentle, kind, caring manner with all patients. She makes sure that concerned family members have the support they need to be with their loved one. This includes food and gas money, sometimes out of her own pocket. Kids get special attention because she understands how traumatic illness and injury can be.

Some of the situations have been physically and emotionally taxing. One time she spent over an hour in the river, supporting a diver with a broken neck. At a forest fire, she was at the scene of a fire engine accident which killed three fire fighters. After caring for the survivors and loading them on a helicopter to the hospital, she had a heart attack and got her own ride in a helicopter!

During the last year and a half, she has taken on an expanded role with the Volunteer Ambulance Service by acting as the president of the organization. Now, in addition to the calls she goes on, she oversees the management of the service, including budget, insurance, standards, protocols, policies, and all the details involved in providing a high quality volunteer medical service to a remote, mountainous area of 100 square miles. She has expanded the role of the Volunteer Ambulance Service by participating in community drug and alcohol prevention efforts and in a project to revise the way mental health services are delivered. Our community has no after-hours medical care except for the ambulance service. At her job at the Karuk Tribe Health Clinic, which is the only medical care in the area, she is integral to trauma and critical medical cases and often follows their patient into the ambulance for transport to a hospital!
Please give every consideration to this nomination. Doreen needs to be honored for her service and our small, rural, volunteer organization should be recognized.
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