Moving Acute Care from the ER to the Community
Before leaving New Zealand in 2004, Chez Valenta taped a map of the United States to her wall and threw a dart at it. “Wherever it hit,” she said, “was where I was going to go.” It landed in the middle of the Hudson River.
Ms. Valenta arrived at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport with her suitcase and $500 in her pocket. “That was all I took besides the clothes on my back,” she said. “I thought of it as a challenge to myself.” Though she secured a job in a doctor’s office, she ultimately left to work as an emergency medical technician, for which she had trained in New Zealand. “To me,” she said, “it was always exciting, always filled with new and interesting experiences.”
That decision led Ms. Valenta to the acclaimed Paramedic Certificate Program at St. John’s University. Graduating with her certificate in 2011—a little under a year—she received her license as an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT), a state qualification for paramedics. “There were other programs I could have chosen,” said Ms. Valenta. “But the one at St. John’s was the most academic—and it has the University’s prestige behind it.”
Ms. Valenta said her St. John’s education was an important factor in her current success. She awaits promotion to lieutenant as a full-time paramedic in the New York City Fire Department. In addition, she is one of two per diem paramedics on an elite mobile stroke unit operated out of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. Part of a national pilot program, the unit—the first of its kind on the East Coast—responds to 911 calls with powerful medicines and equipment including a CAT scan. “We have the capability to provide acute stroke care right at a patient’s doorstep,” said Ms. Valenta. “This kind of treatment used to be only available in an emergency room or neurology department.”
A member of New Zealand’s indigenous Māori community, Ms. Valenta “grew up surfing, hiking, and camping.” She earned a Bachelor of Health Science degree in Paramedicine at the Auckland University of Technology and joined the ambulance service of the Order of St. John, which is the national ambulance service of New Zealand. She also worked as an emergency medical technician in Auckland.
Ms. Valenta said her Māori heritage helps her relate to the diverse neighborhoods she serves in New York. “In New Zealand, I am a member of a minority community,” she said. “I understand how important it is to listen and to understand the unique perspectives of different cultures. The variety of people is one of the things I like about this city.”