In December 2019, cases of COVID-19 began to appear.

Though hindsight is always 20/20, we proved woefully unprepared for a pandemic. The question I have for all of you is, did we as prehospital providers play a part in the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage?

Yes, we did. Before COVID-19, how many of us wore the appropriate PPE on every call? I know I cannot say that I did. I have been asking that same question of the EMTs and paramedics attending the live lectures that are associated with health and safety.

Initially a lot of the providers say, “No.”

But when I ask who can say he or she wore the appropriate PPE on every call, a lot of the attendees go on to admit outside of gloves, they rarely wore the recommended PPE, if ever. 

How many of us were required to apply the appropriate PPE in the training environment? Did you wear a gown when delivering a baby? I have had four childbirths in the prehospital setting and upon walking into the door the baby was emerging. I did not take the time to put on a gown or face shield. How many of us took the time to put a gown on after getting into the back of the ambulance with a trauma patient? How often did you put on a surgical mask or N-95 high particulate mask when your patient was coughing? What about a face shield when operating around the patient’s airway? Again and again, the answer I get back is either ‘rarely’ or ‘never.

Where do we go from here? 

We can never let PPE shortage happen again. We have to hold ourselves and our peers accountable to wearing the necessary PPE on every call. If we wear the necessary PPE on every call, regardless of the amount of bodily fluids present, we will force the management team to continuously resupply. This will ensure that line item within the budget is fully funded and never cut or reallocated. Training programs also need to be held accountable. 

As instructors we have to get the necessary equipment out and ensure the students do more than say, “Scene safety, BSI.”

These are no longer just points on a National Registry of EMTs (NREMT) check sheet and they never should have been. Students need to select the appropriate PPE in the lab environment. This will increase the likelihood that they will wear it in the prehospital environment. 

Do you have an opinion you would like to share on this subject? Join us in the live training sessions. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) can join us in the 24-hour EMT Refresher and paramedics can join us in the 48-hour EMS Refresher.