When Cataldo Ambulance responds to a call in any of its 18 communities – which include Chelsea, Everett and Revere – no matter what the issue is everyone being treated has to be considered a possible COVID-19 patient.
When responding to a car accident, a sick person, someone with chest pains or any other kind of accident, Owner Dennis Cataldo said EMTs and paramedics on their ambulances are outfitting themselves in full gear for complete safety.
“We are anticipating things could ramp up quite substantially in the next week or so and create a surge for us,” said Cataldo. “There is definitely more pressure on the health care industry…Early on, or before all this, if a report came in or an emergency came in with a full response or a car accident, for instance, people didn’t necessarily take the time to put on PPE or masks, but now everyone represents a potential coronavirus patient, even at a car accident, and especially with 12,000 people having the virus in the state and any number of others who don’t know they have it….It’s a lot more preparation and a lot more time on task because they know they have to put on the full PPE and mask for every patient they encounter.”
Overall call volumes for Cataldo have decreased in the last several weeks across all communities, Cataldo said, and that’s likely because so many people are at home heeding the isolation orders. There are a number of people, he said, that think they might be sick, but really it’s the anxiety of the situation that’s working on them.
“There are a lot of people with high anxiety and they are worried,” he said. “Once one of our people can give them information on what the symptoms are and check their levels, they try to figure out if they need to go to the hospital, and they let them know that it is risky to go to the hospital.”
However, other calls they encounter can be quite serious when they see sick patients who need immediate care, and it can be worrisome for those in the field.
That said, Cataldo said it’s the kind of things that EMTs and paramedics run to, rather than run from.
“This situation is kind of why people get into this field,” he said. “When people run from a health care scare, our people want to run in where others want to run out. There is a level of anxiety out there because no one knows if this will come and go or if it will linger around or be more of a destructive pandemic than it already is. You need to be able to envision and end in sight. When it really isn’t defined and they’re fighting something endless, there is more anxiety.”
To protect those workers on the ambulance, Cataldo said protocols start from the time they report to work. Each worker gets their temperature tested and they have to fill out a form about whether or not they are experiencing symptoms. When they leave headquarters to go into the field and respond to calls, they carry substantial PPE in the vehicle. That PPE includes gloves, masks, full face shields, full gowns and N95 masks.
“It’s mostly the same as what you might see being worn in hospitals and health care environments, and that is what we’re going out into the field with in order to have safe patient contact,” he said.
So far, Cataldo said they have been lucky in their workforce, as only a few workers in their fleet of about 80 to 90 ambulance companies have come up positive.
One of the overarching worries for ambulance companies, public safety officials and health care workers is what would happen if large numbers of their staff test positive – resulting in the quarantine of many others on the staff that have had contact with them. In such a case, there is concern that a shortage of first responders, including ambulance personnel, could suddenly be in short supply.
“That’s a concern on the minds of everyone in health care right now,” Cataldo said. “It would be tough to have to quarantine large numbers of individuals. If it resembles some of the indicated trends and looks anything like it does in New York, it’s going to be difficult to tell people they’re on a 14-day quarantine because they’ve been exposed…I don’t think anybody has any answers for that right now and so far, we have not had that happen.”
Like most all providers, Cataldo said the public can help his ambulance companies by practicing social distancing and staying out of public gatherings. A surge of patient calls could expose ambulance workers and overwhelm the entire system.
“From a health care perspective there is a pretty serious virus going on and actually it is a pandemic,” he said. “Though you might feel well and others around you might feel well, you don’t know who’s carrying it.”
Cataldo Ambulance has between 80 to 90 ambulance companies operating every day in 18-plus communities – a network that includes serving Everett, Revere and Chelsea.