Southwest Florida summers are known for one thing: a unique kind of heat. Mornings start with temperatures and humidity levels in the mid-70s. Mornings heat up quickly and give way to temperatures in the mid-90s in the afternoon; followed by spot thunderstorms, which bring even more humidity. It makes working outside in the elements extremely uncomfortable.
Add in a new personal protective equipment regimen, brought about with the COVID-19 pandemic, and you have a formula for a series of new challenges for EMS leaders to confront.
Bringing patients into a clean ER means a quick exit for EMS personnel needing to complete decontamination and doffing processes. Disinfection procedures mean protracted times outside the emergency department where heat and humidity are ever-present, and decontaminated personnel don’t generally reenter the emergency department.
By late June, it was clear to our EMS system this could not be managed as easily as we hoped. Adding water and sports drinks to our arsenal of tools was not enough to overcome the stifling heat. Providers regularly complained of symptoms consistent with dehydration, and exhausted crews required additional time to recover from calls.
Reentering hospitals full of COVID-19 patients to gain a respite from heat and humidity in between calls was not an option on the table. So we began brainstorming solutions for on-duty rehab outside of the walls of the hospital. From those discussions came “The EMS Rest Area” idea.
Nearly 90 percent of our organizations’ patients are transported to four hospitals. So, by deploying an EMS rest area at the four primary hospitals, our system was able to implement an innovative, economical project where crews would have a place to rest and decompress after calls.
The setup was simple. A 600-square-foot tent was erected and outfitted with a 20-ton industrial air conditioning system from HERC rentals that is currently rented on a monthly basis. Most tent air conditioning systems will drop the temperature by five to 10 degrees, but our goal was not simply to make the tent cooler; we asked our vendors to “make it snow” inside the site.
Each tent has interior lighting, tables and chairs. In addition, food, sports drinks and water are supplied to staff who need an opportunity to eat a snack or a meal in between EMS assignments. The entire concept was specified, ordered, and deployed in less than a week.
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Outside of a rest area, staff complete disinfection procedures using Aeroclave devices. EMS charting for the incident can be completed in the rest areas, and members the Lee County team can take a deep breath and recharge in the 15 to 20 minutes this process requires. The ability to have a few moments in the air conditioning to finish their work, rehydrate and become reinvigorated has been a welcome respite. Crews work with supervisors if they need extra time to rest due to the weather, call volume and other conditions.
The greatest asset we have is the people working each day to take care of our community. We were happy to be able to respond to their need in such a short time and give then a measure of true comfort. It’s a strategy we’ll continue for weeks and months to come.