WATERTOWN, NY – The New York State Association for Rural Health (NYSARH) recently published an article authored by three local EMS leaders to bring attention to COVID-19’s impact on an already struggling system.
Ann Smith, North Country EMS Program Agency Director, and Mark Deavers and Melissa Brook from Gouverneur Rescue Squad, detailed the unique challenges faced by our region’s EMS agencies during the pandemic, leaving the survival of this vital portion of the healthcare infrastructure in question.
“We felt compelled to bring attention to this issue, not only for our community but for our elected officials in Albany and Washington DC,” explains Ms. Smith. “We are gravely concerned by the possibility of another wave of the virus and the ability of our agencies to survive it.”
Here are some excerpts from the article:
Rural EMS is primarily covered by volunteer providers or combination agencies supplemented by a small number of paid staff. Volunteer providers found themselves making difficult choices: to follow their calling and care for their communities or to work their paying job and provide for their families. As healthcare workers are frequently the first people exposed to COVID, they were feared by a community uncertain of how the emerging virus was spread. Many employers were forced to make decisions between allowing their employees to volunteer and help their community outside work or to maintain a safe workplace. Some employers were required to do a health screening, which would not allow volunteer EMS providers to work because of possible exposure from being in an ambulance or an ER with potentially infected patients.
AVAILABILITY OF PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)
Early in the pandemic, the availability of PPE was as limited as the knowledge of how the disease spread. Seeking medical care was thought to spread the virus, especially in confined spaces, such as an ambulance. Unknown facts surrounding the illness led to high levels of anxiety and confusion about how to best respond to COVID calls while still providing the highest level of care and maintaining patient and crew safety.
Too afraid of contracting the disease at the hospital when they needed medical care, patients often waited until they became critical to call 9-1-1. This fear drove down call volumes and revenue in already strapped budgets and exacerbated agencies’ abilities to offset the cost of readiness to respond to the pandemic. Unlike hospitals, EMS agencies did not receive increased reimbursement for confirmed or presumed COVID patients to offset costs Add to this the substantial increase in expenses for PPE and decontamination equipment and devices
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