With COVID-19 cases on the rise, B.C. Ambulance Service members have been weathering the second wave.
When the pandemic hit, the agency was forced to add levels of protection for paramedics and their patients. That protection has been credited with keeping infection rates among members to almost zero.
With 30 years of experience as a paramedic, Brad Cameron, B.C. Emergency Health Services superintendent of patient care delivery for Greater Victoria, has never experienced this. “It has added a level of complexity our paramedics have never seen before.”
On average, B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) sees about 1,400 calls a day across the province. Of the 4,500 employees, eight have tested positive for COVID-19 – one of which was on the Island – since the start of the pandemic to the end of October. But of those eight positive cases, seven were found to have contracted the virus from family members – not on the job.
Unlike the sterile environments found in hospitals, members of B.C. Ambulance Service are entering homes and encountering an “enormous viral load,” Cameron explained. “It’s not the same environment … they can’t slip up.”
Paramedics cannot risk cross-contaminating their units or emergency rooms.
This means paramedics are suiting up differently for calls and it’s creating some challenges – aside from the equipment itself being uncomfortable. While paramedics are gearing up, they’re often faced with family members or the person who has called them, demanding they drop the extra protocols because the patient doesn’t have COVID.
“We don’t know that and we can’t take a risk,” Cameron said. “They get quite angry and take it out on the paramedics.”
Like many, BCEHS faced a shortage of personal protective equipment when the pandemic hit and was forced to find alternatives while keeping up with daily demand. Early supplies of N95 masks ran out but 3M Elastomeric Facepiece Respirators (EFR) had already been sourced. However, that was no small task.
“It’s not just a matter of giving someone a mask and saying ‘here’s your new mask’ … We had to fit test the entire province for the new EFRs,” Cameron said.
Paramedics were then fitted again for another N95 alternative – as well as being outfitted with gowns, gloves, eye protection and more.
“The complexities of what we put our paramedics through is unbelievable,” Cameron said.
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