EMS preparing for surge in requests for services with Governor's reopening plan

Becky Campbell • Apr 26, 2020 at 11:48 AM

 When the novel coronavirus caused leaders across the nation to shut down a wide variety of businesses to keep people apart and help curb the spread of the virus, one thing didn’t change — emergency responders were still on the front line for any emergency that came up.

As Gov. Bill Lee’s plan for reopening the Tennessee economy expands, so will the need for emergency services to readjust any COVID-19-related plans put in place. Even so, some of those adjustments made to keep responders safe will become part of the new routine.

Precautions put into place to protect those essential workers whose daily jobs kept them in close contact with people won’t just drop off. In fact, Washington County/Johnson City EMS Chief Dan Wheeley said he’s afraid people will become complacent about social distancing, hand washing and cleaning, which could allow COVID-19 the opportunity thrive again.

“The biggest effect on the shutdown for us was a decrease in call volume,” Wheeley said. “We’re down about 25 percent on our call volume. A lot of that is on the non-emergent side since they shut down elective procedures and surgeries and a lot of doctor’s offices are doing more stuff by telemedicine and that’s reduced our volume.”

EMS has two divisions — emergency response and convalescent transportation. The latter includes moving patients from one facility to another as well as transporting people to doctor’s appointments if they are unable to get themselves there due to physical restrictions.

Wheeley said calls on both divisions of EMS are down in call volume, but that 911 calls overall are down with fewer people out and about. Like many businesses, Wheeley said many of the office staff have been working from home to accomplish social distancing.

“We did some staffing changing and a lot of our staff is working from home. Each person comes in one day a week,” to keep the office open.

When emergency crews go on calls that are potential COVID-19 cases, they use extra precautions such as wearing face masks and putting a face mask on the patient. The agency has transported eight confirmed COVID-19 patients from one facility to another, so crews used extra personal protection equipment.

Once a positive or potential COVID-19 patient is transported, the ambulance goes to the agency garage for a complete decontamination process.

Wheeley said he’s planning for a surge in calls once Lee’s plan is completely in place.

“What we’re planning for is when these doctor’s offices start opening back up and all the appointments, procedures and things like that that people have missed, they’ll be trying to make all those up,” he said. 

“We expect we’ll see a surge in requests for services. We’re working with our nursing facilities and doctor’s offices to try to plan those out, so we can handle the volume.”