As COVID-related calls increase, ambulance service adapts


LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – COVID-related emergency calls have increased over the past two weeks with Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance responding to an average of five to eight per day.

Now, the ambulance service fears that will increase even more after the Thanksgiving holiday.

“The past couple weeks have just kind of been crazy busy,” said Steven Hensley, Operations Supervisor/Clinical Services for Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance.

Both COVID and regular emergency calls have kept Hensley and his team on their toes as they respond to difference scenes.

When a call comes in, dispatch has a quick survey to assess if their first responders are heading into a high-risk COVID situation.

“That differentiates how we approach the call. Again, it’s just a tool not a guarantee.”

If it is high risk, the protocol and attire changes.

“The personal protective equipment we put on is much more extreme,” said, Hensley. “We have face shields, we have respirators, N-95s, full gowns, everything like that.”

The way responders diagnose a person has also changed. They now ask questions from six to ten feet away.

Once the person is diagnosed and requests or needs emergency assistance, they come into the ER and are treated by doctors like Anthony Deuster, M.D. of Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

“If we know that they are COVID-positive or there is high suspicion, then they are completely garbed and gowned for protection for themselves,” said Dr. Deuster.

While adding more PPE can slow down emergency staff, Dr. Deuster added that it’s critical to take those precautions in the midst of staffing shortages which is adding stress to the whole system.

“The staff itself is getting exhausted, so we have to realize that everyone is doing their best,” said Dr. Deuster.

“We’ve adapted and overcome and mixed and matched the best we could essentially but it does keep things tight,” said Hensley.

Both stressed the importance of slowing community spread by taking the proper precautions of wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands, and avoiding gatherings outside of your immediate family, especially as Thanksgiving approaches.

“If everybody follows the rules we’ll be fine,” said Dr. Deuster. “If people continue with the holiday coming up not following the rules, it could push things to a dangerous level for everybody.”

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