Posted: Friday, August 28, 2020. 6:15 am CST.
By BBN Staff: The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline healthcare workers has been widely reported over the past few weeks. Doctors and nurses are being diagnosed with the virus all over the country, and those who have not been infected are working with unfathomable effort to keep the public safe. But the plight of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) who transfer patients in ambulances from one facility to the next is a unique one; which is why the Belize Emergency Response Team (BERT) has gone the extra mile to ensure that EMTs are protected.
Breaking Belize News spoke with Andre Carrillo, Executive director at BERT, who explained that the company has to ensure the highest level of protection for its staff to ensure that there is no cross-contamination between EMTs and patients. Carrillo said that such contamination could potentially put the country in a position where the emergency response team would not be functioning.
Carrillo said that for low-risk calls, EMTs are equipped with gear such as N95 face masks and head covers, but for high-risk calls, EMTs suit up in Tyvek suits, one of the top brands of Hazmat suits in the world.
“At BERT we provide the full face mask respirators and we also use the P95 air filters, this protocol is above what the World Health Organization has recommended for safety. We need to ensure that we maintain capacity so that the system does not collapse,” Carrillo said.
He noted that given the current state of the pandemic, all patients are considered a potential COVID-19 carrier, so BERT has to keep strict watch over its supplies using burn rate calculation to ensure that resupplying is done before stocks become critically low.
BERT currently operates a fleet of 10 ambulances, which Carrillo said are cleaned and sanitized daily and between runs, to ensure the safety of EMTs and patients. He explained that the average ambulance run takes around two hours from the initial call to the patient being dropped off at a medical facility, and once that ambulance returns to base it is immediately taken out of rotation for sanitizing and replaced with another ambulance that is ready to deploy.
“To further protect the public we have COVID dedicated ambulances and general emergency response ambulances. So not all ambulances are used for COVID-19,” Carrillo said.
Carrillo also noted that the added layers of precautions and stress resulting from the pandemic have been tough on BERT staff, prompting the company to work closely with a professional psychologist to offer mental health support to the EMTs, as the hazards of their job become
compounded by the pandemic.
He noted that staff is also provided with a washer and dryer at the BERT headquarters so they do not have to take their work clothes home and risk potentially taking some form of contaminant back to their families.
“So an EMT might have to shower several times for the day to ensure that there is no cross-contamination,” Carrillo said.
The fight against COVID
Despite the various precautions BERTS takes to ensure the safety of the patients it serves; Carrillo said that Belize’s ultimate weapon against COVId-19 will be the cooperation of the communities countrywide in abiding by the health and safety guidelines issued by authorities. He notes that routine, proper handwashing, social distancing, and the wearing of masks, will keep the virus from spreading to the point where Belize’s health system cannot cope with the number of infections.
“If we don’t get this virus under control the entire health system will collapse from the emergency response to the hospital care, and that’s just the reality of it,” Carrillo warned sternly.
He concluded by appealing to all Belizeans to do their part in the national COVID-19 response.
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