During this 2021 EMS week, we salute all our EMS personnel across the United States and thank them for their selfless work every day. This year, the theme is “caring for our communities” and it could not have been a better description of what EMS has always done. I want to propose, however, that we take this week of heightened awareness of EMS to help each other once again.
During COVID-19, we witnessed the many sacrifices that EMTs and paramedics made in order to keep providing emergency services to their communities. Many worked what seemed like endless hours. Many slept in cars and in garages because of the fear of bringing something to our loved ones, albeit children or family members who were more vulnerable. Some EMS personnel lost family members to COVID-19 which made this pandemic even more personal to them. So, let us please take a moment to remember that underneath whatever uniform you are wearing, you still have a family and emotions as a human being. It is OK to not feel OK and that the stress and hardships we have experienced during this pandemic are very real. Many EMTs and paramedics have died because of COVID-19. Some members became sick and recovered; others have still not returned to work.
During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, the call volume in New York City reached historic numbers. Hospitals were overwhelmed with severely sick patients as emergency rooms and ICUs reached capacities. Early in the pandemic in 2020, the national ambulance contract (NAC) was activated and soon EMTs and paramedics from all over the country were patrolling and responding to 911 calls and with interfacility transfers. For me, it was surreal to see so many ambulances with out-of-state plates as they became part of the NYC EMS for a few months. To all those EMT and paramedic brothers and sisters out there who are reading this, New York City thanks you for helping us out!
As I mentioned to someone last year, I consider EMS as the true front line because we see people before they even arrive to the hospital. We provide that initial assessment, care and treatment. During the peak of COVID-19, we were the only medical personnel that the patient and family encountered because the patient sometimes never even made it to the hospital. EMS is of course part of a team that extends into the hospital and beyond but there should be no doubt that EMS is that first step in a multi-tiered response.
I also want to take a moment to reflect on a topic that warrants much more attention than it has been given thus far. Even though we have gone above and beyond during the pandemic, we need to take a moment to also “take care of our community.” A year later, the topics of mental health and stress within EMS are getting more traction. But we need to keep in mind that even before this pandemic, EMS was at higher risk for increased stress due to the nature of the work we do. Discussions regarding stress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (or syndrome or injury), burnout, and resilience need to be more transparent. Raising awareness and education around these topics need to increase for EMS students and seasoned personnel alike. We need to not be afraid to have those discussions and openly welcome the notion that “it is ok to not be ok.”
So, we must watch out for each other and ensure that if we see something that doesn’t look or feel right, try to speak to your colleague or at least let someone know. Yes, some EMS personnel may always be irritable or curt, but we honestly know when even that person is just not “his/her usual self.”
“Caring for our communities” also includes caring for ourselves since we have our own EMS community. I salute all EMS personnel – paid and volunteer – during EMS Week 2021. Let’s also make sure that we take care of ourselves so that we can continue to take care of our communities for generations to come. We owe it to ourselves and to our family and friends. Stay safe out there and take care of yourself and each other.