Proud Partners: Caring for Patients and Each Other

After 17 years working in the same ambulance, partners Vena Sword-Ratliff and Reindee Barnett have a bond like sisters.

Partners Vena Sword-Ratliff and Reindee Barnett have spent 17 years as “sisters”— working side-by-side, responsible for each other’s well being, holding each other accountable on the job and supporting each others’ families. 

Paramedic Sword-Ratliff and EMT Barnett operate one of 57 ambulances for Paramedics Plus in Alameda County, Calif. (Paramedics Plus is now a part of Patient Care Logistics Solutions). It’s a busy agency that serves more than 1.5 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area. These two partners stand by each other every shift. “We make sure that we are both emotionally intact to successfully get through the day,” says Barnett. 

Partners Going Beyond the Call

When asked what makes a good partner, Sword-Ratliff and Barnett cite flexibility, sympathy, kindness and a willingness to work hard. They also say listening and communication skills are important, but sometimes feel that, after 17 years as partners, they can communicate even without words. “We just know what we need or expect,” says Barnett.  

“Both of us have the ability to be a team player and often switch roles as a leader and a follower. We depend on each other to utilize all of these qualities and cover each other if we falter.”

To Sword-Ratliff and Barnett, going Beyond the Call means helping patients with whatever they need—including not-so-glamorous tasks that fall far outside the job description. It’s work in which they take tremendous pride. They can be found cooking food for a non-critical diabetic patient who legally refuses to go to the hospital, assisting a caretaker to clean up a patient or helping to put someone back into bed. “As mothers, we are not unfamiliar with dirty diapers and soiled clothing,” says Sword-Ratliff. 

Sword-Ratliff and Barnett take great pride in helping out their own EMS community when colleagues need support.

Helping Out Their Own

They also find a deep satisfaction in helping out their own. “What we really get excited about is helping our own EMS community,” says Sword-Ratliff. “When our own community is suffering from death, injury or life-altering events, we put our catering skills to work and do fundraisers for our co-workers and their families.” Over the years, they have helped raise more than $15,000 to contribute to fellow EMT families.

Facing Challenges Together

Early on, they faced some unique challenges—including being African American women. “When we both started in EMS, we were among a small group of women in EMS. It gets even smaller if you consider our ethnicity,” says Barnett. “We both worked hard and did what we were taught to do: provide excellent service and care to citizens of Alameda County. We did what we loved doing: helping others. 

Says Sword-Ratliff, “We never saw our ethnicity or gender as hindrances, but some others did, and they weren’t very quiet about it. They made it very clear and obvious that we were different, be it through looks or whispers and excluding us overall,” she says. “We used our differences as weighted strength and used our cultural backgrounds as a way to bring something different to our job. We have successfully gotten through these challenges and now use that strength to encourage others and support those who may be different or who simply see some of the same challenges we have faced. We can say without a doubt we love being different and embrace it with a smile.” 

Overall, they both feel privileged to work alongside someone they consider a sister. “We get invited into people’s lives for just a small part of their world,” explains Barnett. “We are there in what could be a life-altering event for them. We enjoy the chance to be a warm caretaker; a loving, empathetic person to help them through this event or help them pass to the other side. We both respect this privilege and know it’s an honor.”