$20k goes toward gurney shields for 30 ambulances and 150 P100 respirators
Mon EMS Executive Director Forest Weyen and John Hitchens, chief of EMS operations at Star City Fire & EMS, said they’re committed to putting every possible layer of protection between emergency service providers and COVID-19.
That effort got a boost earlier this month when the Monongalia County Commission earmarked just over $20,000 “hero pay” grant funding to outfit about 30 ambulances with gurney shields and 150 or so EMTs with upgraded P100 respirators.
“It doesn’t look like much, but it is actually super helpful for our patients and personnel,” Weyen said of the shields, which are essentially transparent hoods that cover the head of a patient once loaded on a gurney.
“The patient can lay there. We can still see them and assess them. We still have access to run any tubes or deal with whatever else, but it offers a level of containment. Just like wearing a mask, it helps control the spread.”
Not insignificant, Hitchens said, as EMS providers are increasingly in direct contact with COVID-19.
Both Hitchens and Weyen said between emergency and non-emergency services, their agencies are seeing about five COVID-positive patients daily.
“We have definitely seen an uptick in the last three or four weeks. In November and early December, it was once a day or one every other day. Now it’s multiple times a day,” Weyen said.
The majority of EMS personnel at both Star City and Mon EMS are being vaccinated as part of the initial distribution phase.
While the shots may help defend against the virus, it does nothing to fend off the fatigue.
With every call these days comes the added steps of masks, goggles, gloves, shields and the process of decontamination before starting all over again.
“The reality is that it was overdose fatigue. Everybody running overdoses all the time, you get fatigued and your level of compassion starts to come down. Now COVID is the same way. Not only does everything take longer, but people are worried. It’s the holidays. People are worried about carrying this stuff home,” Hitchens said.
“We just have to provide the type of resources to ensure they’re clean when they leave, they’re safe when they’re at work and they’re not taking it home to their loved ones,” he said.
Hero pay was approved by Gov. Jim Justice in April. It provided $100,000 to each county to offset expenses specific to COVID-19.
The remainder of the county’s funds went to purchase laboratory freezer units ($37,554) and an accompanying generator ($28,200) and needed electrical upgrades ($11,775) for the Monongalia County Health Department in order to store the COVID-19 vaccine.