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Local first responder addresses impacts of COVID-19 on paramedicine

June 4, 2020   ·   0 Comments

As Ontario tries to determine it’s “new normal” in the wake of slowed infection rates for COVID-19, the delivery of medical services has rapidly evolved.

Alliston-based paramedic Laura Sperdutii said COVID-19 hasn’t had much of an impact on emergency calls where it’s life or death, as two sets of hands are needed in those situations.

However, less emergent calls have changed significantly; when someone dials 9-1-1 they’re asked a series of screening questions to determine if they have any COVID-19 symptoms. Depending on the screening results, only one paramedic enters the premise, when appropriate, in a suit of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Everyone’s being extremely cautious and everyone’s extremely understanding when we come in with all the equipment on; it can be quite intimidating – but people have been very respectful about it,” Sperdutii noted. “They say ‘we completely understand’ and the community’s been so appreciative and so respectful through this whole time.”

Paramedics are trained to always be cognizant of COVID-19, particularly when they’re unable to screen someone for symptoms over the phone, before responding to an emergency in person.

“I think the way that COVID presents itself has made it difficult; our screening tools have had to become quite broad and quite generic because depending on the population and depending on people’s history, COVID’s presenting differently in so many different people,” Sperdutti explained.

“It’s always on the back of your mind, but as long as you are taking the appropriate recommended precautions you can really minimize the fear.”

Sperdutti said she worries more about inadvertently catching COVID-19 outside of work because there are less safeguards in place.

“You don’t have the pre-screening or the ability to question people, knowing where they’ve been and who they’ve interacted with, but as long as you’re maintaining your distance and washing your hands regularly – doing what you can – you can’t let that fear control everything,” she stressed.

Fortunately, Sperdutti doesn’t live with anyone who’s more susceptible to complications if they catch COVID-19, which helps her balance those fears at home.

“If I get it, chances are my husband’s going to get it too, but both him and I are younger and healthy and we have a better chance of trying to fight it off,” she explained.

Initially when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Simcoe County, emergency calls steeply declined, according to Sperdutti.

She said this could be attributed to people’s “fear response” where they felt unsafe to go to the hospital because of the pandemic.

“I don’t know if it was them thinking that they were going to get sick if they went to the hospital or if it was people thinking they couldn’t overload the healthcare system,” she noted. “I think with the nicer weather now and people kind of settling into the ‘new normal’ and the new routine, our call volumes are picking back up again.”

It’s important for the public to note that they should always call 9-1-1 in an emergency and never forgo an ER visit based on fear.

“Don’t ignore your medical symptoms. You can go to the hospital, you can seek medical care, you don’t have to look at healthcare workers as something as intimidating or scary because of what is going on in the news – you’ll still get appropriate care through all of this,” Sperdutti said.

She said oftentimes people are overly apologetic during less emergent calls, but they’re emergency is still of equal value and importance as anyone else.

“A lot of people are struggling with mental health issues and feeling isolated. Maybe their counselling resources aren’t available right now or the virtual visits aren’t the same as seeing a therapist in person,” Sperdutti said.

“A lot of people are having issues coping with that and I’ve had a few calls where people have felt guilty for dialling 9-1-1 because of it, and are so apologetic, but I always tell them ‘your concerns are not less valid than any other call.

“People will say, ‘Oh, you have more important things to do’ but no, if you’re calling 9-1-1 you are my priority, you are going to get the care that you need. Nobody else is more or less important.”

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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