Kimberley paramedics share experiences working during COVID

Paramedics are among those workers who were unable to work from home when the COVID-19 pandemic showed up and had to carry forth with modified procedures and a great deal more stress.

The Kimberley Bulletin caught up with a few local paramedics to see how they’ve been impacted by the Coronavirus.

Don Munro has been a paramedic in Kimberley for just over a year, and before that worked in Creston.

“There’s been quite a few changes,” Munro said. “Before we enter a house now, depending on the call, we have to wear masks, face shields, gowns, as a precautionary thing for us plus the patients.”

Amber Pasula has been with BC Ambulance Service for over a decade and is heavily involved in the community through a great deal of volunteer work.

She said that seniors make up the majority of patients in calls for service, but the calls paramedics receive are never the same twice, responding to everything from broken bones due to a fall from bed to anaphylaxis.

“I would say that, for me personally, I have noticed that people are scared to call 911,” she said about the community dealing with the pandemic.

“They’re scared to go to the hospital because they would think that people that have COVID are at the hospital, so they don’t want to go there even if they are sick or have chest pain or something, they’re afraid to go. It’s kind of scary.”

A big part of the stress for frontline workers is the uncertainty when responding to a call.

“You don’t know if they’ve got it, if they don’t,” Pasula said. “And it’s a risk to us, even though we’ve got our PPE on it’s still a risk that we’re taking back to our family members and I think that’s probably a scary part for everybody even if some people don’t want to admit it.

“We just go the extra mile too, if it’s a call that we know that’s had COVID or possibly COVID, changing the clothes, showering after the call, just completely cleaning ourselves so we know that even bringing it to our coworkers here.”

“It’s added a different element of stress or whatever you want to call it that wasn’t previously there prior to COVID,” Munro added.

Munro, who has a wife and four boys at home, says there was some concern about bringing it home at first, but he gradually began to adjust.

“Do I stay living at home? Do I live in the garage? Do I live in the trailer?” he said. “And all of that initially created a little bit, because my wife is not 100 per cent [healthy] and the four boys, but now it’s sort of just become normal, it’s routine now.”

As the province begins to ease restrictions and move into staggered phases of reopening, these local paramedics aren’t without some concerns. Typically the summer can be a busier time with people out and about, and with more recreation and activities being allowed, calls for service could rise.

“Due to the fact that more people are out and about, especially the young people and I don’t mean young as in 10 to 12 years old, I mean more of the teenagers kind of thing, they seem to have a whole feeling that well it’s not in Kimberley, it’s not in Cranbrook,” Pasula said.

“Because nobody’s advertised it being there so they think it’s safe and they don’t really care because they want to see their friends, they want to go out. So everything’s opening up now and I think it’s just really relaxed and people don’t really care any more or think about it, so I think that’s going to be an issue for us as well.”

Pasula also added that they rely heavily on the local fire department, but haven’t been able to get their assistance as much due to COVID-19.

Aileen Boyd is a community paramedic in Kimberley, and has worked as a paramedic for the last 28 years.

About four years ago, BC Ambulance Service announced a community paramedic program and opened a full-time position in Kimberley two years ago.

Boyd applied and was successful in getting it.

Community paramedics have a couple different roles within their communities, and their roles are unique based on where they are situated.

“It’s very community based and it’s very unique to each community, because each community needs something different from their community paramedic,” Boyd said.

One of their roles is client based — they work closely with the primary health team, in this case Interior Health, which identifies some of their clients in the field that need a little more help — for example, a medication adjustment or help adjusting to a new diagnosis or medical condition.

The other piece is education based and focused on community awareness.

“I’m expected to be the expert of all the community resources so that not only I can serve my clients well but I can also tap into some of those resources,” Boyd explained. “An example would be I taught baby CPR to the early learning centre parents.”

Because of COVID-19, Boyd is currently unable to see her clients face to face, instead, she phoning them once a week.

Some of the clients are on home health monitoring, so they’ll take their blood pressure, weight and pulse and put it into a tablet, which Boyd can then pull up on her own screen and keep an eye on things.

“From a community paramedic point of view, it’s one thing to be on the phone with your clients, but you miss things, you don’t get to see things in their face and be able to physically diagnose better.

“So that was obviously a bit stressful not being able to see any of my clients, many of them are housebound, so once a week I was often the only person they saw. So now being reduced to a phone call that can be a bit stressful for them and for me.”

Another big thing for her is her work with the Food Bank. Before COVID, Boyd did a lot of work with the Food Bank and the Food Recovery Project.

Since COVID hit, she’s been doing deliveries for both institutions, hopping on the BC Transit bus three times a week, loading it with groceries and then delivering them all throughout town.

“I’m still helping them with the sorting but now I’m also taking on delivering as well. And I’ve done that for some of my clients, picking up groceries or medications,” she said. “It’s a nice part of my job, delivering food is just very rewarding.”

Adding on to what her colleagues said previously, Boyd said that being in a mask and face shield already makes it more difficult to communicate with their patients, and adds another layer of stress, and said they had to treat each patient as if they’d been exposed to the virus.

At the station, Boyd took on the role of cleaning and sanitizing all the high-touch spots twice a day. In the early days of the pandemic, she was also given jugs of sanitizer from Bohemian Spirits which she prepared and made ready to give away to people.

Boyd said that she is part of an amazing crew in Kimberley. Many of the members have been there for years and all are very supportive of each other.

“I would have to say that we’re even more supportive of each other now than before,” she said.


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