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Frontenac paramedics talk about work safety changes during COVID-19

Frontenac Paramedics talk about changes to their work in a pandemic
WATCH: How the COVID-19 pandemic changes the way paramedics are responding to calls.

It’s not just health-care workers in hospitals who have to don masks, gowns, gloves and face shields in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Paramedics have to do the same when responding to 911 calls in the field, depending on the situation, according to paramedic Jeremie Hurtubise, who has been on the job for 20 years.

“We’re given details by dispatch through their screening whether a patient is COVID positive, COVID negative or inconclusive,” he told Global Kingston.

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Those particulars determine the choices paramedics make in what type of protective gear they have to put on.

Putting on personal protective equipment happens when the paramedics appear at the site of the call.

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Debbie Cooper, who has been a paramedic for 17 years, says this takes a few minutes and can be frightening for patients and their distressed family members.

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“I have to maintain the physical distancing but I also have an obligation to you to not cut you off. I’m trying to talk to you, I’m trying to engage you and help you understand that we are here, we are doing something for your family member or you,” she explained.

Cooper and Hurtubise have worked together for the last seven years of their careers. They are concerned individuals in distress aren’t calling soon enough during the COVID-19 crisis.

Hurtubise says calls for service dropped dramatically when the pandemic and the associated physical-distancing mandate came into effect.

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“We were very busy, and then all of a sudden, everybody stopped calling and just the really sick ones were calling,” he said.

Cooper says patients seem to fall into two categories for the most part.

“People are wavering between ‘I don’t want to go because that’s where the COVID is’ or ‘I don’t want to overwhelm an already stressed medical system,'” she said.

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Hurtubise worries that ignoring potential symptoms lessens the opportunity paramedics have to potentially save a life.

“In the case of having (an) MI, a myocardial infarction (heart attack), it could be the difference between fixing the problem or death,” he said.

Cooper says most COVID-19 cases are streamed through locations like assessment centres, helping to reduce risks, and sanitizing measures are stringently followed.

“Diverting changes how many COVID symptom patients are at the emergency room, and they have taken great, great caution to channel where their patients are to protect their staff and the other patients there,” she said.