PHILIPPINES. Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental. Glenn Palacio, a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) of the Philippine Red Cross, received an emergency call on 15 July. Before leaping into action, he must follow the COVID-19 pandemic guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. First, his team has to rush to the scene of a three-way motorcycle accident wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and then they have to analyze the situation. Next, they must administer proper prehospital care as needed. Finally, the team must transport the victims to a hospital or medical facility approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF). These are situations that an EMT faces during the pandemic.
The difference between EMTs and paramedics. While an EMT is an equally important job, paramedics have higher medical training. They are allowed to do intubations, defibrillation, and IV insertions,” Palacio told Transcontinental Times in an interview. An EMT performs the role of nurse, while a paramedic functions more like a doctor . “With our limited resources and equipment in our ambulances, we are [all] just EMTs,” Palacio added.
Backs against a wall because of COVID-19. There are not enough EMTs or ambulances. “Being an EMT during this pandemic is critical”, Palacio shared. Besides the lack of personnel, there is a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). They have to dispose of their PPE after every emergency run. Each emergency run needs a driver and three personnel in attendance. On top of this is the added expense of disposable PPE, which costs ₱ 1,500 per set. In total, it costs EMTs ₱ 6,000 in PPE for every emergency run. Palacio said, “The office is low on funds for operations alone. The blood and safety service training is what makes money for the Philippine Red Cross.”
Since hospitals get the first claim on supplies for the pandemic, this has forced EMTs to get creative. “We had to ask for donations because of the shortage of PPE,” Palacio said. Eventually, after two months, the EMTs received a donation of reusable PPE from Senator Grace Poe and Pitman Outdoors. Each person can now have two PPE sets for an emergency run that can be washed and reused. These reusable PPE are a cheaper alternative to autoclave machines. Uncertainty remains about how long the the supply will last. Handmade PPE are welcomed as well, as long as they are medical grade.
The new normal. While everyone is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Emergency Medical Technicians are direct witnesses. Palacio said, “Anxiety and the question of when will this ever end plagues me, but I guess we just have to sit this one through and hope we make it.” As healthcare workers and COVID-19 pandemic front liners, they can only hope that this COVID-19 pandemic ends. He adds, “I believe our mental health is also important. The sooner we accept that this is not going away anytime soon and what once was will never come to be again, we can adapt quickly to our situation.”