Despite Atchison County EMS Ambulance responders' head-on run into the era of the coronavirus pandemic in its fourth year of operations, the department managed to stay on a course toward consistency.
Jan. 31 marked the 4-year anniversary of the day Atchison County assumed operations and sole management of its owned county-wide ambulance service.
Director Corey Scott presented the Atchison County EMS 2020 Yearly Response Report to county commissioners on Feb. 9. The report shows EMS responded to a total of 94 confirmed COVID-19 related calls, and possibly some more calls that were unconfirmed due to the asymptomatic nature of the virus, Scott communicated in an email to the Globe.
“COVID-19 has made an interesting past year for Atchison County EMS,” Scott said. “First and foremost I cannot stress enough that the staff here at EMS are the reason we have been successful in navigating the pandemic.”
Scott continued “from the beginning the personnel were committed to the cause and found innovative ways to adapt to the new reality.”
Throughout its short history, the staffing and shift structures for the county’s EMS operations have remained about the same there has been some staff additions made to the existing model that has in in place. The staffing model is based on employment of 10 fulltime paramedics meeting formal education, internship and clinical rotation requirements and qualifications to perform the duties and procedures as outlined by the EMS protocol and policies. Advanced emergency medical technicians who are qualified to provide limited advanced life support interventions that include medications and invasive procedures. Emergency medical technicians qualified to provide comprehensive basic life support interventions that include basic medications and minimal invasive procedures to meet the required certification standards and the all procedures emergency medical responders provide. The EMRs provide basic life support interventions like oxygen, splinting and bandaging; are required to complete the basic education and certain hours of continuing education to maintain state certification. The county’s EMS also maintains a part-time staff comprising paramedics, AEMT and EMTs.
Since the department’s operations began, EMS has hosted in-house continuing education to provide training to its employees and for staff and other emergency agencies.
Scott said it was early on in 2020 when EMS implanted COVID-19 specific training as it relates to patient care and crew safety.
“We began these classes in February of 2020 well ahead of the arrival of the virus locally,” Scott said.
In the Feb. 1, 2020 edition of the Atchison, Globe an Associated Press story published on page A7, reported that Americans were being evacuated from China and that the COVID-19 virus had infected about 10,000 persons globally within a the previous two months previous to the article. Atchison County Health officials confirmed the county’s first positive case of COVID-19 on March 29, 2020.
“For the most part our staff has each experienced exposure and contact with the virus,” Scott said. “There have been quarantines and isolations. The virus caused extra stress, long overtime hours, and changes in how we operate.”
The personal protective equipment supplies have remained adequate due to EMS’s standard pre-planning for unexpected certain types of events like the current pandemic, so there already was a supply on hand prior to any known coronavirus presence in the county.
“Our staff found creative ways to acquire PPE and disinfection supplies keeping our agency supplied through the entire event,” Scott said of the needs that came to light after more information about the virus initially unfolded. MGP, Inc. donated ethanol that prompted the EMS staff to become more innovative and flexible to find ways how to stretch to use of other chemical resources, he explained.
EMS already had an infection control policy in its protocol and then initiated a new targeted policy specific to the COVID-19 virus. Specifically a new decontamination for stations, ambulances and staff, Scott said. EMS received about $61,051 as payment from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Scott said. A portion of the CARES Act payment was used to add a new EMT position during the pandemic, which increases availability of staff and ambulances -- especially during the overnight hours, Scott said. The CARES Act money also offset budget challenges EMS faced in wake of the pandemic.
The annual total revenue generated for the year was about $539,227; Ambulances were dispatched 2,048 times, mostly for the 446 patient transfers from one facility to another; 298 falls was the second-highest reason for dispatches; other reasons is third on the list; 155 dispatches related to sickness; and the fifth highest reason ambulances were dispatched was for breathing problems.
Most of the calls EMS answered to were within Atchison city limits at 1,297. EMS responders answered to 133 pages in the eastern portions of the county. Fifty-six responses were within the Effingham city limits; 73 dispatches concerned patients in the western portion of the county and 10 were out of county in accordance with mutual aid agreements or by requests. EMS answered 12 calls in Lancaster and five in Muscotah’s city limits.
Response times averaged about the same and in previous years, Scott said. The report indicates ambulances are mostly dispatched between the hours of 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on a daily basis while the B and C shifts are on duty.
Scott credited operations Amberwell Health concerning its response to the COVID-19. The operations at the hospital have been well planned and organized throughout the pandemic, Scott indicated.