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Emergency responders are exhausted and sick — and Trump has made it worse

‘I honestly don’t know if I’m going to survive,’ said one New York City paramedic.

By Dan Desai Martin - April 10, 2020
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Emergency worker

Emergency responders are putting their lives on the line across the country, and the Trump administration’s failure to properly prepare for the coronavirus crisis has made their jobs even more dangerous.

“Everybody’s overworked,” an FDNY emergency medical technician told NBC News in early April. “There are people who are working five doubles, five 16-hour tours [in a week]. You get your two days off, but those days you’re just sleeping the whole day because your body’s recuperating from so much work.”

Even before the crisis began, NBC reported in December that medical first responders were overworked and underpaid, earning far less per year than their emergency counterparts like firefighters and police officers.

The explosion of the coronavirus pandemic has only increased the strain on them.

A high volume for New York City emergency responders was 5,000 calls in a day in 2019, the outlet noted this month. In late March, the city saw a call volume break previous records, surpassing 7,000 calls in one day.

And there’s no time leftover for breaks — even short ones.

“We don’t even have time to go to the bathroom,” an EMT in Harlem recently told Reuters.

Fear of putting themselves and their loved ones in danger of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus at the center of the pandemic, has also overwhelmed the first responders.

In late March, the New York Fire Department issued new guidelines requiring FDNY employees, which include emergency medical first responders, to work even if they have been exposed to COVID-19, so long as they show no symptoms, CNN reported.

Christell Cadet, a New York City paramedic, spoke to the outlet from the hospital after she herself had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Everybody’s calling 911, everybody’s got symptoms,” Cadet said. “We are the first line of defense. We’re going to go somewhere and we’re going to treat this patient, we’re going to do the best to decontaminate our ambulance and then go onto the next assignment. Everybody’s going to come in contact.”

On March 28, Dr. Lewis Marshall, board chairman of the New York City Regional Emergency Medical Services Council, told Reuters that roughly 20% of the city’s ambulance workers, which include EMTs, paramedics, and supervisors, were out sick.

“We consider this a war, and they’re [EMTs and paramedics] our soldiers, and unfortunately they’re not immune to this virus, and many of them are getting sick,” Lillian Bonsignore, the city’s chief of emergency medical services, said separately, days later.

In addition to the dangers inherent in the job, the Trump administration’s failure to prepare for the crisis means many medical first responders lack the proper protective equipment necessary to keep themselves safe.

One paramedic in Brooklyn told the New York Times that she started sewing her own masks out of bandanas and coffee filters. Another was forced to use the same N95 protective mask for several days in a row.

“I’m terrified,” Phil Suarez, a 26-year veteran New York City paramedic, told the Times. “I honestly don’t know if I’m going to survive. I’m terrified of what I’ve already possibly brought home.”

New York City is one of the epicenters of the pandemic in the United States, with at least 81,803 COVID-19 cases, and the city has lost at least 4,571 residents to the disease.

Before the crisis began, the Trump administration failed to stockpile enough protective gear, leaving hospital staff and medical first responders across the country scrambling to protect themselves.

A recent investigation by the Health and Human Services Inspector General revealed that hospitals across the country had reported a “lack of a robust supply chain was delaying or preventing them from restocking PPE [personal protective equipment] needed to protect staff.”

EMTs and paramedics around the country face similar fears and challenges as those in New York City.

“It feels like I’m watching a train wreck in slow motion,” Haydon Pitchford, an EMT in Virginia told ProPublica in mid-March, “and I’m about to be thrown in front of it.”

“We’re worrying about the patients getting what they need, and we’re worrying about ourselves,” Robert Barbosa, an EMT in Fort Worth, Texas, told the Wall Street Journal.

In Chicago, there are “four ambulances that do nothing but COVID-19 runs,” Richard Ford, the city’s Fire Department Commissioner, said on Wednesday.

Nationwide, at least 449,260 positive cases have been confirmed and at least 16,108 people have died.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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