During National EMS Week, which runs from May 18 to 23, Geisinger typically honors EMS workers with peer-nominated awards, cookouts and a night at PNC Field to see the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, but the spread of COVID-19 has postposed such gatherings. In lieu of those celebrations, Geisinger decided to honor EMS crews by cleaning their vehicles and offering a few small giveaways.
As the first line of care in emergency situations, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics and pre-hospital providers selflessly serve their communities, often putting themselves at risk for the well-being of their patients. The unpredictable element of answering emergency calls poses dangers, and those risks have increased during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we operate as EMS crews,” said Pennsylvania Ambulance paramedic Michael Chmielewski. “We deal with the unknown regularly, and that’s just part of the job, but with this new unknown due to COVID-19, there’s even more precaution and preparation in what we do.”
Chmielewski’s partner, EMT Amber Lane, said one of the biggest challenges is the way providers deal with a patient’s support system.
“We typically get called on the worst day of someone’s life,” Lane said. “It’s important to work with the family to offer guidance and reassurance. It’s hard to do that when you have to tell them they can’t go with their loved one to the hospital, so we have to go out of our way to comfort them in some small way.”
David Schoenwetter, D.O., director of the Division of EMS at Geisinger, said honoring EMS professionals is even more important during COVID-19 when the normal opportunity to celebrate them has been delayed.
“The pandemic has impacted all aspects of healthcare,” Schoenwetter said. “The hospitals are considered the front line in the fight against COVID-19, but EMS is in front of that. They are the true expeditionary force, and their job has been made far more complicated. There’s no way to know if a patient is infected, and that increases their exposure risk. They are always deserving of this honor, but it’s especially important to recognize them now.”
In addition to Geisinger Community Medical Center, the ambulance washes were offered at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, and Geisinger Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill.