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EMS student frustrated after Carl Sandburg College says it can't verify documentation needed for license test

Brandon Brinson enrolled in the EMS Paramedic Program in 2020 and has completed hundreds of hours in and out of the classroom to prepare for his license test.

GALESBURG, Ill. — Students completing the EMS Paramedic Program at Carl Sandburg College this year are unable to test for their license after the college said it was unable to verify that the students completed the necessary requirements.

Brandon Brinson is among five students who enrolled in the program at Carl Sandburg in the fall of 2020. He had previously gotten his EMT license and was volunteering part-time for his local ambulance service.

"Working part-time in town for a local ambulance company, we are in desperate need of paramedics," Brinson said. "Paramedic usually runs the calls and can perform a much higher level of care for patients than EMTs can. I wanted to be able to just take the next step up and be able to help the patients more."

As part of the EMS-Paramedic program, Brinson said the students take classes and labs to learn how to do the different paramedic skills, including IV insertion and intubations. Also built into those first three semesters is a time when they observe different departments at the hospital, emergency room and ambulance rides.

"Then the last semester is strictly all internship where we're matched with an ambulance company, we work with the medics as a third person, we actually run the calls under their supervision," he said. "And then your last 100 hours, that is what's called our capstone. That's when we are one on one with a specific medic and that's where we basically sharpen our skills up and get a lot more critical feedback on a one-on-one basis."

The internship requires 480 hours of ride time.

Classes finished in December, and Brinson walked at his graduation with just his ride time hours left to complete.

"I didn't graduate high school," Brinson said. "It's the first time I ever walked across the stage ... I didn't realize at that time there was a big problem."

Graduates from the paramedic program are eligible to take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam, according to Carl Sandburg's website. Once they've passed the written and psychomotor portions of the exam, the student is eligible for licensure in any U.S. state.

Months later, Brinson said a couple of students had completed their ride time and weren't given the authorization to test from the school.

"We found out that there was some documentation that was missing from our program during the first three semesters that the college, I guess, was unable to prove that certain competencies were filled," Brinson said. "It's really not on us to sign off on our competencies, but unfortunately, none of the instructors or staff that were in that department are there at the college anymore, so there was nobody left to sign off."

A spokesperson for Carl Sandburg told News 8, "Key components of the program completion process were disrupted by staffing and operational changes in the local market. The College was deeply disappointed to realize the resources to continue the EMS Program are not available locally."

In a letter to Brinson dated Aug. 15, the college said it was unable to verify that he completed the required program hours and obtained the required competencies to have completed the program. It said deficient documentation includes: the final field internship hours for completion of EMS 220, lack of gradebook details documenting course work, lack of documentation in FISDAP of completion of clinical and field experiences over the course of the program and an absence of verification of competencies by the EMS Medical Director.

It further goes on to cite disruptions to the program by the pandemic and the closure of Cottage Hospital. It also says that the EMS Medical Director that oversaw any clinical and field experiences is no longer the designated EMS Medical Director and doesn't have the authority to provide the required documentation, and the Program Director overseeing the EMS Paramedic Program is longer the Program Director.

Carl Sandburg said it's offering the students a $7,040 refund for their tuition and will work with them to apply the credit hours toward another program or Associate in Applied Sciences degree. 

The letter states that Brinson will be given a grade of "N" or "administrative withdrawal non-punitive" in lieu of "incomplete," and he will be withdrawn from the class.

"The College is not optimistic that a solution exists, and please know that we would not be issuing this communication had the College not exhausted all other avenues for issuing a program completion certificate," the letter says. "We are all very sorry and very unhappy that you are in this situation."

"The college's saying it's no fault of theirs, and I understand that, but it's really no fault to the student at all," Brinson said. "We showed up for class, we did what we're supposed to do, and whether the documentation is missing or not, in my opinion, was regardless. I have the transcript that shows I passed the class."

Brinson has 24 hours of his required ride time left to complete and said he'll be finished with them next week. He's not sure where that leaves him though. The ideal situation would be that the college signs off on it.

"I have a full-time job, as well as working part-time as an EMT, so me trying to find time to ride was almost impossible at times," he said. "A lot of evenings, a lot of weekends, and just a lot of time away from family that can't be replaced. Without having something to show for it at the end."

He said they're trying to work with another EMS system that's willing to accept their credits and sign off on their internships.

"There's a huge need for paramedics and EMTs in the community. A lot of people don't realize how bad the need is here," Brinson said. "Just trying to find paramedics to be able to fill those roles, find the EMTs to fill those roles, and to have a class full of paramedic students that want to be a paramedic and now told you can't, not only hurts us, it hurts the community."

If no solution is found, Brinson said he doesn't have the time to enroll in another program.

"I don't believe in my heart of hearts there's going to be a positive solution to it," he said. "This was my one shot. If it doesn't happen, it's just not going to and I'll just remain an EMT."

According to Carl Sandburg College's website, it will not be offering its EMS Paramedic Program in the fall of 2022.

Read the full statement from the college:

We simply cannot be more disappointed that this has occurred for our students. What happened with our EMS Paramedic program does not speak to Carl Sandburg College’s mission or vision. We looked at numerous avenues to provide options for completion that fulfilled the requirements of our program accreditor with no acceptable solution found.

While this is an evolving situation, the College will continue to support these students in completing EMS studies to become licensed paramedics; those opportunities will have to be realized within by a different EMS program within the State. In addition, the College has offered reimbursement of tuition paid from 2020-22, a maximum of $7,040 per student.

We understand how students and family members with our EMS program are angered and upset by this situation. What has been lost by these five students is effort, energy and, most importantly, time.  We are deeply apologetic to the students that this has affected.

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