DHEC offers new communication tool for emergency professionals


COLUMBIA - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and local partners have developed a new resource to help nonverbal, neurodivergent and non-English-speaking people better communicate with first responders during emergency situations.

DHEC's South Carolina EMS for Children program is distributing medical communication cards to paramedics, medical professionals, firefighters and police officers across the state. These communication cards are a tool for emergency personnel and their patients to communicate with each other using visual imagery. The cards are designed to help children and families, especially non-English-speaking or nonverbal patients.

Jacqueline and Scott Stoller were instrumental in the development of the medical communications card. The Stollers are Greenville residents who have served as members of the SCEMSC committee as Family Advisory Network representatives, and they are the parents of a nonverbal child.

"Although this particular resource is new, we've been working on it for years," said Jacqueline Stoller, who works as a nursing instructor. "The effort started before COVID but got put on the back burner. When our daughter was young, we used a lot of picture symbols to communicate with her. Having autism and being pretty much nonverbal made it difficult to interact daily with her - during times of crisis, it became more difficult."

Many people with verbal delays are able to communicate through visual cues. The medical communication cards provide pages of pictures and emojis displaying symptoms, feelings and needs to assist in an emergency. The cards are also dry erase, allowing for a patient to write if they are unable to verbally communicate.

Although the Stollers have personal experience in working with nonverbal persons, they worked hard to make sure that the voices of their larger autism community were represented in the communication cards.

"The picture cards are well-researched and a known method of communication in the special needs environment," said Scott Stoller, who is also the West Pelzer police chief, a firefighter and a paramedic. "In addition, we personally brought the cards to our daughter's bowling league to ensure that it resonated with other people on the spectrum and their parents for feedback. The response was overwhelmingly positive."

"Seeing the struggles and providing care first-hand made the Stollers the perfect people to help make this project possible," said Sable Land, SCEMSC program coordinator. "Since they've worked with SCEMSC, they've wanted to make something like this possible. I'm proud that we were finally able to bring their vision to life."

Beyond supporting South Carolina emergency professionals, the overarching goal of the medical communication cards is to promote equitable and inclusive access to emergency and health care services.

"Everyone deserves the opportunity to communicate and express themselves as best they can," the Stollers said. "They also deserve quality, competent and compassionate health care. This tool will help patients attain that, while assisting us as first responders and other health care providers to deliver it."

The medical communication cards have been distributed widely in the Stollers' community and at various emergency professional conferences through SCEMSC. The goal is to make these cards available for any emergency professional in the state. Providers can access the cards online at https://tinyurl.com/yxkdvd2c or request a physical set by contacting SCEMSC.