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)

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

Saanich Fire Department on the scene after a car crashed into the Walmart in Uptown. (Photo courtesy Dan Wood)
PHOTOS: Saanich firefighters free trapped workers at Uptown Walmart

Incident reported as explosion after driver rammed through wall

Tiny packets of carrots ready to be distributed in Victoria. (Submitted/Victoria Seed Share)
Free Victoria seed sharing collective bags work experience funding

Fully volunteer run Victoria Seed Share will get a boost from provincial grant

The CRD is working on a solid waste management plan to reduce the amount of material sent to Hartland Landfill. (Black Press Media file photo)
No time to waste: Greater Victoria closes in on plan for garbage

CRD board to consider final draft solid waste management plan in May

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Organ donation form from BC Transplant. (BC Transplant)
POLL: Have you registered as an organ donor?

They number 1.5 million strong and growing. But their numbers still fall… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 6

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s help in identifying the man suspected of being involved in a stabbing. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP trying to identify stabbing suspect who wielded rusty knife

Stabbing followed argument between two men at Port Place Shopping Centre April 1

The inside of the Campbell River Community Centre gymnasium has been marked off in order to facilitate the public flowing through the clinic as they receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell river Mirror
Leftover vaccines go into arms, not down the drain: Island Health

Immunization plan comes with built-in options for any unused vaccines at the end of the day

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning says the players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 are recovering and the team still intends to play a 56-game season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks players ‘mostly on the other side’ of COVID outbreak: general manager

The athletes have had a “whole range” of COVID-19 symptoms, said team physician Dr. Jim Bovard, but no one has needed to be hospitalized

Police are investigating after a man was shot Thursday, April 8 while sitting in a car in Vancouver. (Black Press files)
Man shot in Vancouver while sitting in a parked car: police

The victim is currently in critical condition. Police say no arrests have been made.

Most Read