Paramedics well prepared for pandemic

Ambulance paramedics and emergency dispatchers are often the first step in an arduous journey for anyone battling coronavirus.

They are that first calming voice, the careful touch, or helpful advice that a person struggling with the disease encounters.

But, despite their bravery and commitment to the job, ultimately they are human just like all of us and face the same doubts and concerns that we all do in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worry and fear about contracting the virus is back of mind for every paramedic who arrives on scene of a medical call – despite the extra precautions being taken to protect both themselves and the public, confirmed Clair Hall, one of 34 paramedics working full-time in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

But, he and the local team are able to put fear aside because they are well-trained and diligent in following the processes put in place for everyone’s protection, said the Maple Ridge paramedic chief.

“There’s no doubt that this does have a toll and an emotional effect,” he elaborated. “It is something that does weigh on you every day. I mean you are going into work knowing that you are going to be in contact with people who potentially are carriers of this virus,” said the 48-year-old father of two representing the Ambulance Paramedics of BC.

Troy Clifford, the provincial president of the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC, concurs, but added how proud he is of the way every paramedic in the province has faced the many new challenges.

“Our own concerns and fears are being put secondary to our responsibilities to the public. Unless paramedics are safe to look after patients, we can’t do our jobs effectively. And that’s what I’m most proud of – how our paramedics are responding and just their resilience,” said Clifford.

The local paramedics, for instance – who roll out with three ambulances 24/7 in both the local communities (plus an inter-facility transfer vehicle that is in use daytime weekdays only) – want the public to be aware of all the extra work they are doing to help quell worries about calling for an ambulance when needed.

Every time an ambulance is dispatched on a call, it is disinfected, “at a more stringent level than we would have done before this,” Hall assured.

And, at a minimum, paramedics are always wearing a face shield, an N95 mask, and gloves.

The most important key in a paramedic’s arsenal, however, has been that they’re fully prepared and using risk assessments at all times, which Clifford said goes back to training.

One of the big adjustments that the BC Emergency Health Service (EHS) made early on was to organize and focus paramedics across the province to best equip them as they fight on the frontlines.

In mid-March, an emergency coordination centre was set up for paramedics across the province, and meetings are held every day of the week focusing on the strategic details of BC EHS’s plan to combat the virus.

They have implemented daily practice updates in video format that get sent to all paramedics in a Facebook group. Of the 4,100 B.C. paramedics, at least 3,300 of them are on social media and receive the updates daily.

Leading up to the declaration of the pandemic, 9-1-1 call takers would ask a series of questions to determine the likelihood of the patient having COVID-19. Now, everyone is treated as if they have the virus.

Further, this has led to a change in procedure for the paramedics making house calls.

Normally a paramedic would walk right in, sit down next to you and start treating your illness; now, paramedics call the patient to the door. Making sure to stand three metres away, and dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE). From there paramedics will assess the situation.

Paramedics might have to change in and out of all that gear anywhere from six to 10 times a day, so as to not contaminate other areas they work in.

Clifford acknowledged that regular calls overall are down, with many people seeking self care for minor issues and the prevailing fear that going to the hospital may put them at risk to COVID-19.

But he said the current climate shouldn’t discourage people with serious issues from calling 9-1-1.

“People are having to decide whether their emergency or sickness requires a transport to the hospital, so I think they are looking to paramedics for assurance on what to do,” chimed in Hall, who has called Maple Ridge home for 20 years.

“We do really want to make sure that people who may have medical emergencies unrelated to coronavirus are not holding back.”

In the meantime, the positivity from the public is extremely encouraging and Hall urged locals to continue showing support, noting how much it means to the team.