Elizabeth Kanof Levine ’56: What happens when an EMT sends an SOS?

When you have a medical crisis, you dial 911, EMTs respond, and your stress level calms considerably. But emergency medical services (EMS) workers live in that high-stress world every hour of their working lives, and it takes a toll. The stress, plus easy access to addictive medication, leads between 10 and 15 percent of all health workers to abuse alcohol or other drugs, according to Liz Kanof Levine.

Until recently in her state (North Carolina), a drug-impaired EMS workers might get addiction treatment, but often their professional credentials were simply revoked with no treatment option. That didn’t make sense to Liz, a retired physician active in state medical groups.

So she has worked tirelessly to get help for addicted health workers. While serving on the North Carolina Medical Board, Liz worked closely with the NC Physician’s Health Program establish a program to help physicians struggling with chemical dependency. Today, that program is one of the strongest in the nation, with a 92 percent longterm recovery rate.

“When you see a person in trouble—license revoked, reputation destroyed, and often a marriage gone—and then you see what the program does to bring people back to normalcy, you get impressed with what a rehab program can do,” Liz says. So she turned her attention to helping the Physician’s Health Program establish a recovery program for EMS workers similar to the one used by doctors, nurses, and physicians’ assistants.

It took three years, but the legislation finally passed in 2009. For this and other contributions to the state’s medical community, she was awarded the Dr. George Johnson Jr. EMS Award for 2009, by the North Carolina EMS Advisory Council.

But Liz isn’t done yet. She still serves on the disciplinary committee that links EMS workers to rehab services, and says she expects “to keep working on this for quite a while.” Like EMS workers, she’s always on call.—E.H.W.