Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel was recently appointed to the role of chief medical director for Indiana Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Bringing extensive public health experience, including leadership positions with health systems, hospitals, and emergency medicine, Dr. Yazel was most recently recognized for his innovation and success in working through the local challenges presented during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While interviewing Dr. Yazel, IHA discovered a second passion of Indiana's new EMS chief medical director that many may not be aware of – and it doesn't involve health care. Learn more about Dr. Yazel in the Q&A below.
Q: How did you initially get into the health care field?
A: I always had an interest in health care, but it was when I had the opportunity to shadow a family friend who was an ER doctor when I was in my teens that I really got hooked. Emergency rooms in the late 80s were kind of the Wild West back then, and I loved every second of it!
Q: What are some of your goals as the new EMS director?
A: Two of my biggest priorities are workforce and wellness. You cannot successfully improve one without addressing the other. Pre-hospital care is suffering from a critical workforce issue. We must continue to improve our recruitment and retention process. Along with that, we have got to improve the workplace satisfaction for our providers by advocating for an improved working environment and compensation. Mobile integrated health is also a focus of mine, both by expanding the scope and encouraging more widespread implementation. I look forward to being out and about and visible in both the rural and urban parts of our state. I don't think I can truly be an effective advocate unless I am in tune with what is going on at the local level.
Q: You were at the forefront of the COVID-19 response in your area—what would you say are some lessons learned in health care post-COVID?
A: If there was a silver lining to the pandemic, it shed some light on how vital our EMS system is to the health care system in our state. The Homebound Hoosier program was a prime example of that. As we continue to develop models for efficient, value-based care, the role of EMS will only expand. We also learned how to adjust quickly to a rapidly changing environment and create innovative solutions. These experiences will position EMS well for success when encountering challenges in the future. Last, but definitely not least, we learned the importance of clear, bias free, evidence-based information dissemination to the general public.
Q: How have your past roles and experiences prepared you for this next chapter?
A: Clark County has a unique population distribution, with some areas essentially functioning as an urban suburb of Louisville, while some areas are extremely remote. Working in that environment, I have worked as an emergency medicine physician in both an urban trauma center and a community-based emergency room. I have been medical director for wide range of EMS service providers – urban, rural, municipal, private, and more. As the pre-hospital care needs for our state vary significantly from location to location, I think having that experience will allow me to be a resource for all the diverse environments of our communities across Indiana. I also work as a county health officer and as medical officer for LifeSpring Health Systems, overseeing several Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs). Being able to understand the interplay between pre-hospital care and these organizations and having already developed relationships with leadership in these areas will help a great deal in the future.
Q: Lastly—tell me about your stint as a Colts player and how that came to be!
A: Ha! Well, actually, years ago, when Peyton Manning was the quarterback, there was a season where he took every single snap all year long. I decided that if that was how things were going to be, I would throw my hat in the ring to be his back-up, despite having no organized football experience or even athletic prowess in general. I wrote a letter offering my services with no reply. I wrote a new one each time a new GM was hired for the Colts. This past year, my letter was picked up on social media, made it all the way to USA Today, and a news station in Louisville even filmed a private throwing display in my front yard (my kids were the receivers). Chris Ballard, the Colts' GM, called me and brought my family and me up to watch a game in his suite (see text messages pictured below, provided by Dr. Yazel). It was an awesome time. Now it's time to get back to work with training camp coming up. Matt Ryan better be on his game, because I am ready at a moment's notice!