HEMSI: Some patients are being dishonest about COVID-19 exposure, diagnosis ahead of pickup

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, HEMSI dispatchers have experienced an 8 to 10 percent call increase from this time last year. Those calls last a little longer these days considering dispatchers have added a new list of questions for patients. One being ‘have you recently been exposed to, or diagnosed with COVID-19?’

HEMSI spokeman Don Webster said they expect patients to be truthful, but have found that’s not the case with every patient.

“We do the pre-screening on the phone, but sometimes we find out they don’t always tell the truth about it,” he said.

However in terms of personal protective equipment, Webster said the crews have plenty. Drivers and crews also get tested for the virus regularly.

“Paramedics get tested for COVID-19 once a week,” he said. “We use the Binax test, it’s a self-administered rapid test. If someone tests positive with that test, we recommend they go and get a PCR test.”

Currently, HEMSI is reporting 6 employees out because of the virus. It’s unclear whether that means they were exposed to COVID-19, or actually tested positive.

In the meantime, Webster said the paramedic service is still taking patients to the hospital of their choice.

“Major trauma still goes to Huntsville main,” he said. “Because bed availability is a factor these days we will inform you if there’s a long wait.”

Webster said the paramedics stay with patients until they are transferred to a bed in the emergency room. That could pose an issue, since HEMSI put only 24 ambulances on the road Friday.

Nonetheless, Webster said paramedics remain confident in their staffing and COVID-19 safety protocols to continue serving their more than 800 square mile coverage area.

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