(TNS) - In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, EMS workers face unique challenges among healthcare workers.
They’re walking into the “great unknown.”
“We’re going into people’s homes. The hospital is a really tough environment but they have to keep cleanliness to a certain standard,” said Administrative Director of EMS at Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) Dominick Battinelli.
That hospital standard of cleanliness doesn’t exist in a house -- especially in a home where a patient who is potentially positive for COVID-19 has been cooped up for days.
EMS workers are used to walking into people’s homes, Battinelli said, but constantly being mobile and going into places that hold multiple people is currently an added complexity.
Angela Ciocia, paramedic at Richmond University Medical Center, said the great unknown means taking extra precautions.
“We have to be sure that we’re in the proper equipment because we never know what we’re getting into,” Ciocia said, echoing Battinelli.
Prior to the coronavirus, she would enter a home in a mask and gloves at the minimum – eye shields and gowns were put on as needed. Now, eye shields are used more often than not.
Battinelli said surgical masks and gloves are also the bare minimum for SIUH – a patient reporting a fever would require a gown and a N95 mask.
RUMC said its EMS workers all use N95 masks, which are required by the FDNY.
“We want to wear a mask for every patient but do we need to? No, we don’t need it for [certain] kinds of patients. Let’s use only what we need to use so we have what we need when we really need it,” Battinelli said.
RUMC and SIUH said they’ve both seen increased call volume, especially in the last 10 days. Just this week, citywide 911 calls have reached record numbers, surpassing that of September 11.
Ciocia said on Thursday there were 7,000 calls citywide; before the coronavirus there was an average of 4,000 911 calls per day.
“Crews are coming back to the base and saying ‘Wow, that was a lot of calls,’” Battinelli said, adding that an average of six out of eight calls in an hour are COVID-19-related.
Pete Easop, manager of EMS at RUMC, said starting Sunday, the hospital will add one more ambulance to its daily tours for a total of eight ambulances out on Staten Island.
Many calls, Batinelli said, are what they call “worried well” – patients are either anxious with no symptoms or experiencing minimal symptoms that may or may not be COVID-19-related.
“It’s hard to tell somebody if you’re not sick don’t call an ambulance. A lot of people need us,” Battinelli said. “We are dealing with much more than COVID-19 – people are still having heart attacks and strokes.”
Ciocia said she’s experiencing the same – many people are nervous but there are still quite a few people who do need immediate attention.
“If people want to go to the hospital we have to take them, but I do let them know if they’re not admitted they won’t be tested,” Ciocia said. “If people can stay home, they should. People are much sicker in the emergency department.”
Being on the front lines of the coronavirus, not only are EMS and paramedics taking extra precautions with patients, but they’re taking extra precautions for themselves.
Ciocia said these days, it’s not uncommon for her to change her clothes in the parking lot after a shift.
“My neighbors have more than once seen me not fully dressed at 6 a.m.,” Ciocia said. Her basement stairs lead right to her laundry room, so she will often get undressed on the steps and throw her clothes right into the washing machine.
Her boots, which she said are a “petri dish,” never come home with her – she changes them before she even gets into her car.
Everything gets sprayed down with Lysol or Clorox wipes, too. OxyClean is “amazing,” she said.
In addition to herself, Ciocia wants to reassure Staten Islanders that the ambulance is thoroughly cleaned after every call.
Battinelli and Ciocia have over 60 years of combined experience and both said they’ve never seen anything like this before.
“All of the flus, viruses, SARS, even Ebola -- it was scary and we had training and special teams for that but it wasn’t like this. It wasn’t so prevalent,” Battinelli said.
The fear factor of the coronavirus and how contagious it is “really makes this a pandemic,” Ciocia said.
Both agreed that healthcare workers have come together and are doing all they can, which is why Staten Islanders need to continue doing what they can to slow the virus’ spread.
And both want to say thank you to all of the local businesses, schools, and the community for the overwhelming support they’re receiving during these tough times.
“It feels nice to know that we’re all recognized and we’re all in the trenches together,” Ciocia said.
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