Community support buoys Thunder Bay paramedics
Some paramedics are isolating from spouses, children
A Thunder Bay paramedic says a groundswell of "amazing" support from the community has helped to offset the stress and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I have to honestly say I think the biggest contributing factor to improving our morale at work right now has been the community response," said Kristi Campbell, a primary care paramedic with the City of Thunder Bay, and vice-president of the Superior North Association of Professional Paramedics.
"When you're feeling down, or maybe you're having a rough day because, you know, you're heading into work, you haven't been able to hug your kids like you normally would before you leave, and you show up and there's a card on the table and ... a neighbourhood lady has baked you a banana bread, it's just – it makes you feel like a million bucks."
"It makes you remember why you're doing this."
The support is welcome at a time when city paramedics – like many frontline workers – are facing heightened challenges, including more complex procedures and separation from family. She said concerns about the virus have prompted many paramedics, including herself, to isolate from other members of their household.
"You know, we're distancing ourselves from our family members, our husbands, our wives. It makes it a little difficult, that's for sure," said Campbell, who's had minimal contact with her own children, who have been staying with grandparents, since the beginning of April.
"This job, family support is so important. I mean we go on a lot of bad calls, we're seeing a lot of bad things. And normally we would come home and be supported by family, and you know, times aren't really allowing for that at the moment."
'Very lucky' with supplies
The pandemic has also had an impact on how they respond to calls, Campbell explained.
New protocols means that 911 callers are being asked about possible symptoms of COVID-19 – information that paramedics use to determine how much personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to don. "If someone screens positive that means that there's a whole process of applying PPE before we enter the home, which means our on-scene times are a little longer," she said.
City paramedics have been "very lucky" to be well prepared with their supply of PPE, she stated, adding that they're also being very careful with how the supplies are used, to avoid a shortage.
In terms of call volume during the pandemic, Campbell said it's as hectic as ever.
"When the pandemic first hit Thunder Bay and people were becoming more aware that there was an issue, our call volume did dip a little bit," she said.
"I think people were nervous about going to the hospital ... but since then people have been calling as usual again and I believe our call numbers are right back up to where they've ever been. It feels quite busy right now."
While paramedics respond to a wide-range of calls, she noted that violence is an ongoing challenge, as are addictions.
"I often wonder if this pandemic, and with the isolation and people feeling a little more anxiety, a little more stress [if] it's causing people to rely on intoxicants and so on ... as far as that's concerned we're still attending a lot of calls that are addictions-related," she said.
May 24 – 30 marks Paramedic Services Week in Canada. This year's theme is Pandemic: Paramedics on the Front Line.