JACKSON, Mich. — COVID-19 cases are still high in Michigan. Like those working in hospitals, first responders over at Jackson Community Ambulances say they are overwhelmed. But they're staying focused.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic caused fear and uncertainty for everyone, even first responders.
"It was scary because it was a new virus nobody had heard of and nobody had really dealt with," said Karl Rock, vice president of Jackson Community Ambulances. "The nature of the work that we do we're still expected to come to work and obviously also respond to people's houses."
Rock said, at the beginning of the pandemic, Jackson Community Ambulance actually saw a huge decline in 911 calls.
"It kind of decreased our workload. People were afraid to call 911. No one wanted to be exposed to it and sadly enough the people really needed 911 so we've seen a rise of at-home deaths," Community Paramedic Joseph Lutz said.
But as time went on and vaccinations started to roll out they say their call volume crept back up especially with the latest surge.
"I think that for a second everyone thought it was not existing anymore," Emergency Medical Technician Chloe Silveus said.
"The increase of 911 calls has gone up quite a bit. Everyone is calling for COVID symptoms," Lutz said.
Rock says it's becoming exhausting for his staff.
"Just the knowledge that COVID is out there and you can be affected by it as well as your families that you go home to could be affected by it really does play a psychological role and take a toll on you," said Critical Care Paramedic and EMS Educator Carey Hunt. "It's very challenging. Not to mention the workload is up."
That's because they are also dealing with an EMS staffing shortage, a situation found across the country.
"It's also been a problem lately being staffed fully. It's making it super hard on our crews especially running back-to-back calls and up for 24 hours at a time," Paramedic Caden Simpson said. "Being down two-three cars a shift is definitely a high impact on us."
On top of responding to medical calls, they also have to decontaminate their ambulances and equipment constantly to keep everyone safe. The levels of documentation that they have to complete have also increased.
Rock says these duties that have been added to their workload could be a few of the reasons there's an EMS staffing shortage. But fear of COVID could also be a factor.
"There are stories across the nation about health care providers contracting the coronavirus," Rock said. "The fact that this particular virus was so contagious and you could bring it home to your families. I think it instilled a high degree of caution in people entering the healthcare industry."
Here are a few things you can do to help relieve the stress of first responders.
Think about if you're emergency is actually an emergency and not you just feeling crummy.
"If it could potentially, significantly alter your life, or your quality of life or end your life within 24 hours that's 911 that's the emergency," Hunt said.
When it comes to thinking you've been exposed to COVID-19, he says try other resources like a drive-through testing center and your primary care doctor.
"There are so many resources out there that I think are being underutilized. People are just flocking to the hospitals to get those answers which unfortunately the hospitals are where they keep the sick people," Hunt said.
He says you should also wear your mask, wash your hands, and stay home if you're sick in order to help combat this surge, and know that they are doing the best that they can.
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