By Lasca Randels
WARSAW — There has been a lot of focus on the dangers healthcare workers face during the COVID-19 crisis — and rightfully so.
Physicians and nurses treating patients are at high risk for exposure. Healthcare workers have to deal with concerns not only about being infected themselves but also about unknowingly carrying the virus home to their families.
But let’s not forget that hospital housekeepers, nursing home caregivers and home health aides are facing high risks as well.
And what about first responders?
Police officers, firefighters and paramedics are carrying on in the same roles they served in prior to the pandemic. Paramedics and EMTs continue to provide the same level of care.
They now have the additional risk of being exposed to COVID-19 while assisting and serving their communities.
“Some practices have been implemented to limit exposure,” said Kara Stevenson, communications coordinator at Lutheran Health Network. “We have minimized the number of first responders providing direct patient care and are limiting the number of caregivers present when a patient is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.”
Stevenson said local dispatchers are assisting in the triage of potential COVID-19 patients by asking screening questions prior to EMS arrival.
“Upon arrival, the patient is assessed by a local EMS responder from at least six feet away,” Stevenson said. “If it is determined that the patient has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, additional personal protective equipment such as face masks, gowns and hood covers are used, per CDC guidance. Gloves are used on all patient contacts.”
Stevenson said PPE supply inventories are consistently monitored, and adequate supplies are on hand for crews and patients.
“Due to the nature of the virus, it could be contracted anywhere,” Stevenson said. “We have addressed this by educating staff that any of our patients could be COVID-19 patients, regardless of any symptoms and taking the appropriate measures to keep everyone safe.”
John Conley, fire chief for the Silver Lake Volunteer Fire Department, said if the department assists Parkview EMS, they now wear masks with face shields.
Despite reports of shortages of protective equipment in some areas, Conley said so far that has not been an issue for his department as they have been able to obtain the supplies they need from Parkview and Ed Rock, the county emergency management agency director.
When asked if first responders are worried about their risk of exposure, Conley replied, “I would say yes, you would be a fool not to be. I have asked my high-risk guys not to respond to medical calls and if we have to take care of a patient, to stay away.”
Frontline workers across the country are rising to the new challenges they’re facing while performing duties in their chosen professions.
“I joined to help my community. I did not join to say ‘I’m a firefighter,’ have a blue light or to try and impress anyone,” Conley said. “COVID is just another thing that puts a firefighter in a high-risk category, and when my tones drop, if I am available, I will be there for those who are having a bad day.”
Indiana National Guard members of the 122nd Fighter Wing are saluting Indiana healthcare workers, first responders, military members and other essential employees with community flyovers this week in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.