Primary Care Paramedic Greg Sales in full personal protective equipment that is now being used during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Provided by B.C. Emergency Health Services)

‘Different than anything we’ve ever seen’: How B.C. paramedics are responding to COVID-19

As of March 20, 348 people are infected with the virus in B.C.

In the past two weeks, Joe Acker has seen a shift in his field that is unlike anything ever before.

Acker is a paramedic and paramedic practice leader with BC Emergency Health Service. Since Acker and the team with BCEHS first heard about the impact COVID-19 was having on China, they started investigating how to prepare if the virus made it’s way to Canada.

As of Friday, March 20, 348 people are infected with the virus in B.C. and 22 people are in hospital.

“The fear and the global rip that this has is different than anything we’ve ever seen before,” says Acker.

READ ALSO: B.C. man with COVID-19 symptoms forced to call 811 more than 100 times

By the end of last week, an emergency coordination centre was set up for paramedics across the province, which was located in Victoria but has since been moved to Vancouver. At the centre, meetings are held every day of the week focusing on the strategic details of BCEHS’s plan to combat the virus, along with the operations of paramedics across the province and logistics in dealing with supplies and personal protective equipment, and the most important meeting — communication.

“[We want] to make sure we’re giving our paramedics the most up to date information so we’re very coordinated now,” says Acker, although that wasn’t always the case.

READ ALSO: B.C. COVID-19 cases jump by another 77, another care home affected

“Being completely transparent, we were pretty slow to respond as this really started to hit us significantly in B.C.,” he says. “We were so busy trying to figure things out as a leadership team, we weren’t doing a good job communicating with our staff.”

According to Acker, that has since changed. BCEHS has now implemented daily practice updates in video format that get sent out to all paramedics in a Facebook group. Of the 4,100 paramedics in B.C., at least 3,300 of them are on social media and receive updates that way.

“We’ve changed from business as usual to now, almost all of our time is making sure paramedics are safe,” says Acker, adding that the majority of senior paramedic staff’s day is spent ensuring their safety.

Leading up to the declaration of the pandemic, 911 call takers would ask a series of questions to determine the likelihood of the patient having COVID-19. Now, everyone is treated as if they have the virus.

“[Last week] we would have 20 to 30 of those calls, that increased yesterday to 400,” says Acker. “Whether that person has fallen and broken their leg, or they’ve been in a car crash … we assume everyone has [coronavirus].”

READ ALSO: ‘I bawled, it was heartbreaking’: Parksville homeless shelter forced to close due to COVID-19 concerns

This has lead to a change in procedure for paramedics making house calls. Normally, a paramedic would walk right in, sit down next to you and start treating your illness — now, paramedics call the patient to the door. Making sure to stand three metres away, and dressed in full personal protective equipment — protective glasses, the best quality mask you can get, a full apron or gown, a face shield and of course, gloves— paramedics will assess the situation.

Paramedics might have to change in out of all that gear anywhere from six to ten times a day so as to not contaminate other areas they work in such as the front of the ambulance.

According to Acker, only a few paramedics have had to self isolate due to exposures to the virus but he says all staff members have been assured they will be getting paid even if they can’t work.

“No matter what, our staff are taken care of in terms of financial issues.”

And while Acker, like the rest of us, doesn’t know how long this pandemic will last he says there are enough paramedics to make sure everyone is safe. Some paramedics who recently retired have been asked to come back and work a few shifts to help lessen the burden as BCEHS plans for the next couple of months.

Acker’s final ask — don’t be calling 911 or 811 for every small sign or symptom of the virus. Use the BC Centre for Disease Control’s online self-assessment and follow the steps from there.

“Don’t bother the health professionals unless you absolutely need them because everybody is really busy right now,” he says. “The public shouldn’t panic, they should take care of themselves but when they do need us they can rest assured we’ll be there for them.”



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The State of Aging: COVID-19 exposed a long-term care system already in crisis

A look at Greater Victoria’s aging population and what that will mean for the future

Police seek ‘high-risk sex offender’ last seen in Victoria

Scott Jones is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for being ‘unlawfully at large’

Oak Bay home ready to house refugees, immigrants

District leases two village homes to Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society

Central Saanich police sport personalized face masks

Masks feature the crest and individual officer pin numbers

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

Vancouver Island Tour de Rock riders roll into Parksville Qualicum Beach

Saturday’s schedule includes Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, followed by Nanaimo on Sunday

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Trudeau ‘disappointed’ by RCMP treatment of Sikh officers over mask issue

World Sikh Organization of Canada said taking Sikh officers off the front lines constitutes discrimination

Liberals reach deal with NDP on COVID-19 aid bill, likely averting election

NDP and the Liberals have reached an agreement on COVID-19 sick-leave

Most Read