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Paramedics in rural Kentucky say new, needed protocol is slowing them down

When only two crews are working, and one is decontaminating from a possible COVID-19 case, departments are stretched thin.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Coming face to face with the coronavirus is a new normal for first responders. Paramedics are used to running to the patients side but new, much needed, protocol is slowing them down.

"In my eleven years I've seen a lot of things, been involved in a lot of medical things, but what we're facing now is just uncharted territory,” Teresa Meyer said.

Meyer is a paramedic in rural Russell and Casey counties. "We're going in and just don't know what to expect, you know, we do have some PPE, personal protective equipment, but obviously not enough. It’s just scary times."

Being on the frontlines of a deadly virus like this brings challenges like few crews and long response times for paramedics and EMTs working in rural counties.

"In a rural area, services can't afford to pay so many crews to be on call so if we have two crews on call and then we transport a patient it takes us, with the procedures we have to go through, at least an hour to decom the truck and ourselves.  So that takes one truck out of commission so you only have one truck responding so it just kind of puts everybody on edge, it makes everybody nervous, because you never know what that next call could be,” Meyer explained.

She said the new protocol is worth it, possibly saving her life or others she loves. 

"Before I leave EMS I shower, change clothes, decontaminate those clothes, come home and take another shower," Meyer said, "my biggest fear, and I've talked to some of my colleagues about it, is bringing it home to my family especially my mom."

In Metro Louisville, emergency management is working under new regulations which keep them distanced from patients when they walk onto a scene.

Major Chris Lokits said, "When we approach initially we don't immediately go to the patient’s side. We still try to obtain that social distancing 6 feet while trying to understand what's going on with them."

Department data shows Metro Safe received at least 316 calls requiring the use of PPE between March 6 and March 28, the first three weeks COVID-19 was recorded in our area.

"Several times over the course of an hour were definitely getting that message from dispatch that the patient has screened for flu-like symptoms," Lokits explained.

Lokits said they haven't seen the influx in calls that other cities have but if they do, they have a plan, including staffing people that don't typically work in the field. "We're trying to plan if that does happen here how we would handle that magnitude of increasing call volume and things that we would do."

He said right now staff is still working on their usual rotations, with their usual days off, but scheduling could change to accommodate should a mass amount of staff become sick at once. "We are doing everything we can to ensure that we can continue to respond and protect our folks for as long as we need to."

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►Contact reporter Shay McAlister at smcalister@whas11.com. Follow her on Twitter (@WHAS11Shay) and Facebook.

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