CHESTER COUNTY, Pa - Chester County first responders showed up at homes to respond to COVID-19 patients. Now they’re showing up at homes with vaccines. They are making it happen all while dealing with their own financial and staffing issues.
Janet Sternson of Berwyn received a Moderna shot at home while recovering from having a broken back and being confined to her be
"I've been waiting a long time for this shot and just trying to figure out how the heck to get it," she said.
Other medical complications have also prevented her from traveling to a COVID-19 vaccine clinic to get a shot. Without a shot, Sternson says she could not access certain doctors to help with her condition.
For people like Sternson, shots for those at home are now accessible through the Chester County Health Department's partnership with local EMS agencies. Good Fellowship Ambulance in West Chester contributed to this mission as well, and have devoted a couple days a week to make rounds and provide vaccinations at different homes, which anyone can sign up for.
"It's just come full circle," said Kerri Barrett, a Paramedic at Good Fellowship. "We're not rushing into a patient's house [and] emergently whisking them away so it's nice. It's actually a relief."
One year ago, Barrett was among those on the front lines at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says that just months ago, walking into a patient's home looked very different
"It would be gloves, gown, sometimes it was just a regular gown sometimes it was a whole tiveck suit, booties, head covers, goggles and we looked ridiculous," she said. "It was, it was terrifying at times. I'm asthmatic, my son it asthmatic, and I always used to wonder, ‘Am I going to get it?’ ‘What if I get it and how sick am I going to get?’ ‘If he gets it how sick is he going to get?' So it was always that worry."
Barrett’s worries aligned with some of those expressed by EMS agencies across the country and in Chester County during the pandemic.
"It's a multitude of problems that we're trying to navigate," said Charles "Chaz" Brogan, Director of Operations, Good Fellowship Ambulance in West Chester.
In the beginning of the pandemic, Good Fellowship’s call volume dropped and at one point was down about 45 percent, according to Brogan
"Most EMS agencies rely on fee for service. So, we transfer you to the hospital, we bill your insurance, so with that call volume dropping there was actually revenue loss. That was a big challenge for a lot of EMS agencies," he said. "We really have to fight to get reimbursed from folks' insurance companies and the expenses keep going up every year."
After more coronavirus outbreaks occurred, many spikes in call volume increased Good Fellowship’s revenue. Though profits were increasing, maintaining staff proved challenging.
"It's a challenge to get people to volunteer, to get them from starting off the street to up to what we call a primary EMT or primary paramedic that potentially is a year-long process and that's hard for somebody to volunteer to do anymore 44 nationwide. There's been a decline," Brogan said.
Scheduling vaccines at home has become more taxing, as well. Facilities must ensure they're fully staffed to cover 9-1-1 calls, among other responsibilities.
Even with the demands, Barrett says they seem to always get the job done.
"It's fascinating it's rewarding it's fun, this is all the things we signed up to do we're able to do now," said Don Verdiani, a volunteer EMT at Good Fellowship Ambulance
Though he’s been a volunteer for seven years, Verdiani adds that through just a couple months of administering vaccines at home, he foresees a new future for EMS.
"There's a component of emergency medicine that we're trying to develop it's catching on it's called community paramedicine. What it means is, all these skills that we've got are not only used in an emergency when somebody is sick and we've got to go save them 54 we can actually go and help people with healthcare with preventative care while we're making our rounds," he says.
Sternson also sees this shift, but more importantly wants to "never give up, and never surrender" to COVID-19.
By coupling science with half-hour visits to homes, the Chester County Health Department and Good Fellowship have potentially made Sternson’s hope a reality.
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