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Paramedics serve amid uncertainties during pandemic

In a word, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in “uncertainty.”

Kyle G. Stavinski, a 2015 graduate of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s emergency medical services major who is a full-time critical care flight paramedic and educator for Geisinger’s Life Flight, part-time paramedic with Susquehanna Regional EMS and a part-time paramedic instructor at the college, says that, while danger has always been inherent to the work of emergency medical technicians and paramedics, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new causes for uncertainty.

Graduates of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s paramedic program continue to serve amid the pandemic. As quickly as the coronavirus has evolved, so has the profession’s daily practice.
Graduates of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s paramedic program continue to serve amid the pandemic. As quickly as the coronavirus has evolved, so has the profession’s daily practice.

“While most would claim the most obvious ‘uncertainties’ are: Do I have the virus? Will I transmit the virus to my family? Is my protective equipment (gloves, face shields, gowns, etc.) protecting me? Is there enough personal protective equipment to sustain this rapidly unfolding virus? While those are the most current ‘uncertainties,’ there is the one unique ‘uncertainty’ of: Will I lose my job?

“While all these ‘uncertainties’ might seem absurd to some, they are certainly real – and to top off these ‘uncertainties,’ providers are changing the way they approach patients during an emergency.”

One of those changes is the usual practice of entering a person’s home to provide care, which, he explains, emergency medical technicians and paramedics have been taught to do since the inception of emergency medical services.

Timothy A. Weaver, a 2011 graduate and a paramedic platoon chief with SREMS, as well as a part-time EMT instructor for the college, said the primary goal is to promote EMS crew safety while caring for and stabilizing patients with various illnesses, including COVID-19 diagnoses.

“During this time of COVID-19 concern, we’re faced with a challenge that’s evolving and complex,” Weaver said. “EMS crews are balancing the approach of treating patients with the appropriate personal protective equipment while continuing the practice of delivering high quality prehospital medical treatments.”

“The pandemic has certainly increased the complexity of every mission,” agreed Christopher T. Boyer, director of Penn College’s paramedic program and a 2003 alumnus.

While Boyer continues to work as a flex critical care flight paramedic for Geisinger Life Flight, he has also spent a great deal of time moving the college’s paramedic program forward during the pandemic, and that has involved a great deal of changes, as well, as classes transitioned to remote instruction by virtue of the state’s stay-at-home orders.

“It’s been a great deal of work to follow the trends and advice of our accreditors to replace canceled clinical rotations with lab simulations in light of the pandemic,” Boyer said. “We’ve increased the use of online technology and have implemented remote lab courses to allow the students to continue their education while working from home, going so far as to mail lab supplies to the students so they can continue to practice their IV and medication administration skills on supplied simulation equipment.

“The response of our faculty and staff has been phenomenal; they really stepped up to the challenge to ensure our students can continue their education despite the COVID-19 shutdown,” he added. “While some other programs had no choice but to suspend teaching their paramedic students, we are fortunate enough to have the faculty, staff and technology needed to continue our students’ education during the COVID-19 closures.”

Many changes being made in the profession as the coronavirus evolves have the potential of being permanent, Stavinski believes.

“New systems are in place that have never existed before that support the growth of the profession,” he said.

Those include screening questions being asked by dispatch centers before they send an ambulance or helicopter to the scene of an emergency, providers routinely wearing more PPE, and enhanced relationships among health care providers.

“Providers are operating hand-in-hand with physicians like never before in managing various patient emergencies in the luxury of their own homes, rather than transporting them to a hospital,” Stavinski said.

“When all is said and done, I imagine when the pandemic is over, emergency medical services will have a new business model,” Stavinski said. “Face masks, eye protection and isolation gowns will be the new official uniform, while more patients will be treated in their homes rather than being transported to the hospital.”

“This is an active conversation we’re having right now,” Boyer said. “This pandemic is certainly going to have the entire industry take a hard look at PPE and make whatever adjustments are necessary.”

Meanwhile, as health care providers continue their work in the face of uncertainties, Weaver said that “community support has been ongoing and appreciated.”

“Local businesses continue to donate lunch to EMS crews on a daily basis. Another business graciously donated laundry supplies due to the increased need of laundering,” he said.

“Tackling this pandemic has been challenging at times,” Weaver added. “But we have an incredible amount of community support to assist us with this fight.”

Penn College offers an associate degree in paramedic science, a certificate in paramedic practice, and an opportunity to combine the associate degree with a bachelor’s degree in emergency management or applied health studies. To learn more, call 570-327-4519 or visit the School of Nursing & Health Sciences.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: May 17-23, 2020, is the 46th annual National EMS Week.)

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