Paramedics donning PPE to protect public

Parkland Ambulance notifying residents of changes to procedures to keep everyone safe during COVID-19 pandemic

Paramedic Chris Pacey models the PPE used by Parkland Ambulance during the pandemic. Submitted photo.

Anyone calling for an ambulance during the pandemic will be greeted by something a little different than what they’re used to.

To protect paramedics and patients during the pandemic, PPE needs to be put on before care can begin. This means that once the ambulance arrives, paramedics will need to take a moment before they rush to your door.

“It does take time for our paramedics to don their PPE and … because the front of our ambulances are what we call a clean zone, that paramedic (driving) has to doff it,” Parkland Ambulance director of public affairs Lyle Karasiuk said.

That PPE includes a gown, gloves, eye protection and a mask.

“It’s a little bit of a process, but we’re doing well with it.”

The additional equipment doesn’t add much to response times, but anyone calling for medical assistance will see a bit of an unusual sight.

“If you’re standing in the front waiting for the ambulance, ‘oh good Martha, it’s here’, you say to somebody in the house and all of a sudden you see the paramedics get out,” Karasiuk said.

“Then, they walk back into the ambulance. You’re scratching your head and saying ‘what just happened?’ That again is because they need to approach the scene safely. That’s where they’re going to dress because that is a clean zone for them to start with.”

In addition to extra PPE, paramedics are taking precautions such as additional, detailed cleaning procedures within facilities.

Protecting everyone during the pandemic also means people who have been in a collision, for example, will be asked about respiratory symptoms, whether they’ve left the province and have their temperature taken by paramedics on the scene.

“Paramedics will always ask a patient in our care — regardless of their circumstances — some COVID screening questions,” Karasiuk said.

“We are asked to do this on behalf of the Saskatchewan Health Authority for every single patient we see in our ambulance. Every single patient every paramedic is caring for in this province is screening (patients) just to keep everyone healthy and safe.

Additionally, family members are discouraged, except in extraordinary circumstances, from riding with their loved ones in the back of the ambulance. This is because current measures restrict visitors from all health facilities.

Ambulance services are doing what they can to get the word out. Anyone who calls for paramedics anywhere in the country will be told about the measures by dispatchers before the hang up the call.

“This is a provincial initiative,” Karasuk said.

“Every one of the provincial communication and coordination centres is saying this identical phrase. At the end of each call, our communications team members will tell the caller the Paramedics will be putting on extra personal protective equipment as quickly as possible when they arrive, to protect both the patient and the paramedics – do not approach them – as soon as the Paramedics are safe, they will begin their patient assessment.”

Karasiuk said some people have been asking why the paramedics show up in all of that gear.

“Somebody might say to us, ‘I don’t have COVID-19.’” We need to take these extra precautions because of the illness. We have to err on the side of caution and protocol is dictating this to us,” he said.

“This is going to be a part of normal, everyday routine for our paramedics. They’re getting really good at putting on and taking off their PPE.”