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EMS Protocols Explained at Wrangell Joint COVID-19 Meeting

WRANGELL Members of Wrangell’s joint community coronavirus response team met again on Wednesday, April 1, to discuss ongoing preparations in advance of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the community. Representatives from the City and Borough of Wrangell, SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) and Wrangell Medical Center (WMC) and local emergency medical services (EMS) presented information on patient screening and transport, physical and service line changes at the hospital, and an update on increasing security at Wrangell’s ports and harbors.

EMS Director and Emergency Operations Center Manager Dorianne Sprehe updated the team on EMS preparations, including the ongoing screening of patients on emergency calls. Once an emergency call is placed, responders ask a series of symptomatic questions to gauge the potential of the patient being a COVID-19 case. If they match the symptomatic requirements, EMS labels this a “positive screen” and proceeds with caution.

No more than three emergency medical technicians (EMT) are currently responding to a positive screen call to limit contact and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) stock. Those EMTs don full PPE and pick up the patient in the alternate ambulance, which has been retrofitted to allow for more thorough decontamination. Patients will be asked to put on a mask when the EMTs arrive, their temperature will be taken, and Wrangell Medical Center (WMC) nurses will meet the patient outside the hospital to keep potentially contaminated EMTs outside of the building.

EMS also recently erected a tent near the WMC main entrance. WMC Medical Director Dr. Lynn Prysunka clarified that, “the tent will serve as a “dirty area,” an alternate service site should a known or suspected COVID-19 case in the community need hospital services, like stitches, for example. This will keep the emergency department free from contamination.”

SEARHC Vice President and Hospital Administrator Leatha Merculieff continues to prepare the facility for an influx of patients due to the pandemic, recently transforming the operating room into a second negative pressure room that may hold up to five patients. Therapy services have been reduced, focusing only on urgent or post-operation situations to further limit patient contact. Merculieff stated that WMC received notice that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have waived regulations and will grant temporary licenses for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) pending successful completion of an 8-hour course and staff is working to potentially utilize the waiver to add to the CNA pool.

City and Borough of Wrangell (CBW) Manager Lisa Von Bargen spoke to the security of Wrangell’s ports and harbors. Von Bargen is working with the Assembly, who at an emergency meeting today, Monday, April 6, will consider additional local controls related to the State’s most recent health mandates.