BC Emergency Health Services is responding to several hundred calls a day for patients who have been identified with potential COVID-19 symptoms.
Paramedics have always worn protective equipment for infectious calls and followed strict protocols around infection prevention.
However, in early April all paramedics in B.C. began wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in response to every medical emergency call. Their equipment includes N-95 masks, face shields and gloves. If a patient has influenza-like illness (ILI) symptoms, paramedics will also don a long protective gown.
This is a notable change in infection control practice to support our paramedics who don’t have the option of staying isolated, and protected, at home.
“We wear this PPE to protect you, your family and ourselves,” explains Megan Lawrence, a primary care paramedic in Vancouver. Lawrence, who is also the public education director for B.C.’s paramedic union (CUPE 873), says “every influenza-like call, every potentially infectious call, our paramedics are putting this gear on. To those who don’t understand it can be kind of frightening, but it's a standard precaution we've been taking for many years.”
Paramedics, like all health-care workers, are taking extra precautions to protect themselves, and in turn protecting our patients and our communities. Paramedics are well trained and experienced in infection control practices.
“We conduct doorway assessments now to determine the level of PPE required prior to us entering your house to keep you and your family safe and ourselves safe as well,” says Lawrence. “We’re always here to help you.”
Once with a patient, paramedics make an assessment. If a patient is showing specific symptoms of concern, they initiate reverse isolation and the patient is given a surgical mask to help contain any spread.
As health-care providers, paramedics clean their hands before putting on personal protection equipment. They repeat the cleaning process while removing protective gear (i.e. gloves off, clean hands, gown off, clean hands, mask off, clean hands). This helps prevent cross-contamination.
BCEHS also has comprehensive cleaning and disinfection procedures, including a rigorous disinfection process for inside the ambulance and anything touched or brought into contact with a patient.
“It’s important the public understands seeing paramedics in masks doesn’t necessarily mean they’re responding to a COVID-19 patient,” says BCEHS paramedic practice educator Ryan Ackerman. He also acknowledges PPE “can be kind of scary, but it's the precautions we need to all stay safe.”
BCEHS paramedics, dispatchers and call-takers are working together, during this unprecedented time, to respond to all the emergency medical needs of communities across the province.
Now, more than ever, when you see BCEHS respond in your community, acknowledge the extraordinary roles they are performing to care for patients – and, please, keep the 7pm cheers coming.