Cal State Fullerton Student Kaila Barbee on Being a Frontline Healthcare Worker

Orange Coast shares stories of how people in our county connected and coped in the early days of COVID-19: tales from the helpers and heroes, tips for surviving stay-at-home orders, shifts local businesses made to adapt, advice going forward, and a community displaying hope and resolve. You’ll find plenty of reasons to be proud of where we live and how we’re rising together.

Cal State Fullerton biology student Kaila Barbee is an emergency medical technician for an ambulance company that services Orange County. She shares her experience as a frontline healthcare worker during the early days of COVID-19.

What special precautions is your team taking when transporting patients now?
When we’re responding to a call, we’re (specifically) asking if patients have flu-like symptoms, and not only asking about the patient but the (caregivers). With every patient, we come in with surgical masks and gloves already on.

What was it like dealing with supply shortages?
It was hectic because hospitals and ambulance companies were kind of just hit by the pandemic as far as medical supplies, masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. Everything just depleted drastically because all of a sudden everyone was using masks. We (usually) have at least 10 boxes of different masks in each ambulance. They told us, ‘We’re giving you a mask at the start of every shift. If you need a mask, just call your supervisor but try to make that one last as long as you can. Don’t get anything on it; don’t drop it.’ But, everyone is super careful at work. 

What’s your protocol when transporting patients who might have coronavirus?
We have to gown up with a non-permeable isolation gown, glove up, and put on a N95 mask and face shield prior to making patient contact. The N95 masks filter out small viral particles so they’re more effective in preventing viral transmission. We have to also place a surgical face mask on the patient and basically do our best not to contaminate ourselves or anything else. As always, we need to practice proper hand hygiene whenever we can and use lots of hand sanitizer.

What else has changed?
Before we can go into hospitals and facilities, they’ll check our temperature. A lot of emergency rooms, they’ll meet you outside of the ER in the parking lot. It’s kind of like a drive-thru. They’ll come out just to make sure that your patient doesn’t have full-on coronavirus symptoms. They don’t want you to walk into the ER and expose the whole room. They’re doing a lot of preventative measures before you even get into the facility, which is way different because usually when you get to the ER, you and your patient will sit there for 10 minutes before a nurse comes to talk to you. They’re getting more information earlier just so they can prepare for it. Dispatch will call ahead to the ER to let them know. That’s always been protocol, but now they’re really implementing it as far as being really descriptive (about symptoms).

What has been the biggest challenge?
I think people forget that for us, our safety comes first. So if we don’t have the proper equipment, then I can’t help you because if I end up getting injured or sick myself, that’s now endangering everyone. People get upset when people say we don’t have the proper equipment and we can’t protect this person. We have to go home at the end of the day. I don’t want my family members (to get sick) because of work.

Have you noticed an increase in emergency calls with the current pandemic?
Usually, on a 12-hour shift, we’ll run four calls. Right now, we’re pushing five to six. Some (crews) are even doing seven. The call volume has definitely gone up. We’re getting swamped right now because there’s people that are already sick that need to go to the hospital via ambulance, but I think people are paranoid too. If you’re not displaying symptoms, I wouldn’t suggest going to the hospital because you might catch it over there.

Your graduation is now virtual. How did you feel about the announcement of it being postponed initially?
At the end of the day, it’s humanity versus your own wants. It’s not really a big deal to me. You still got your degree.

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