Late Kearney Doctor’s Legacy Saves Millions and Counting

911 infograph

Emergency medical services are quick, efficient, trusted. They’re so ingrained in society, a toddler can push three telephone buttons to set life-saving procedures in motion.

But that wasn’t always the case. Not until a Kearney physician on the Good Samaritan medical staff helped pioneer our nation’s first emergency medical technician (EMT) program.

Before the late Kenneth Kimball, MD, the philosophy was “load and go.”

“It was common for funeral directors using hearses to get people to the hospital, so treatment could start,” said Kevin Badgley, 29-year veteran paramedic with CHI Health Good Samaritan.

But what if the closest hospital was 75 miles away?

Dr. Kimball knew providing care in the field and during transport would improve patient outcomes.

“Stabilization at the scene of a car crash or resuscitation at the home of a heart attack sufferer is standard care now,” said Dale Gibbs, a former paramedic and director of Rural Health for CHI Health. “But what they proposed in the late ’60s encompassed telecommunications, signage, ambulance design and first responder training. It was revolutionary. And due in part to Dr. Kimball’s unique rural Nebraska perspective, the nation listened.”

In 1969, 20 men from all walks of life gathered in Kearney for a first responder class. This pilot course, taught by Drs. Kimball and Joel T. Johnson, a fellow Kearney physician, was the model for our nation’s modern-day EMT certification program. “At the time, I doubt they realized history was being made. These men were ushering in our modern-day emergency medical services system with Good Samaritan’s ER as the classroom,” Gibbs said.

Our nation’s newly certified EMTs were the final piece in Dr. Kimball’s early legacy, as described in “Good Samaritan: Honoring the Past,” a book written by Dr. Kimball’s wife, Bev.

“While presenting at the 1967 World Congress of Motoring Medicine in Vienna, Austria, the Department of Transportation asked Ken to evaluate the emergency systems in 10 European countries. His report included Europe’s use of pictorial road signs and three-digit emergency number. Both were soon adopted in the U.S.”

The three numbers chosen: 9-1-1.