Monticello Ambulance Service hit hard with COVID calls

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     In the last few weeks, COVID-19 cases have increased not only in Iowa, but nationwide. Jones County also saw an increase, leading schools to resort to online-learning, businesses to take extra precautions, and stretching healthcare workers to the brim.

     The Monticello Ambulance Service, like many small-town ambulance services across the country, also felt the brunt of the COVID storm.

     Britt Smith, Monticello Police chief and Ambulance administrator, said service calls for the month of November increased by 55 percent, namely due to COVID-related calls.

     “Our numbers drastically increased from our normal given month,” Smith said.

     There was a total of 69 calls in November. Normal service calls for the month of November amount to 45.

     Smith said calls starting spiking during the first week in November, right around the time cases were on the rise in Jones County. Aside from general service, non-COVID-related calls, the Monticello Ambulance Service was also responding to COVID calls at Monticello Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, as well as the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

     “The at-risk population was hit hard,” noted Smith.

     And if both Anamosa ambulance were busy on calls themselves, Monticello responded to Anamosa-territory calls as well.

     Anamosa provides transport for patients from Jones Regional Medical Center on to hospitals in either Cedar Rapids or Iowa City. With an influx of COVID patients at JRMC, some critical care, Anamosa stayed busy.

     That’s where Monticello came into play.

     “They (Anamosa) couldn’t keep up,” said Smith.

     Those services such as Monticello and Anamosa who staff a crew 24/7/365 are equipped to respond to situations like this at a moment’s notice.

     Total, there were 22 EMS calls to the prison in November for COVID-related illnesses.

     “That’s 22 patients pulled out of the prison,” noted Smith.

     Anytime ambulance staff entered the prison, they wore full PPE, much like they would when responding to a residential or nursing home COVID call. That included N95 facemasks, face shields, gloves, goggles, and a gown.

     “We upgrade our PPE for a known COVID environment,” Smith said.

     Of those 22 calls to the prison, Monticello transported three inmates to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. That’s three hours round-trip on the road, taking one ambulance out of service to respond to local service calls.

     While Anamosa was responding to calls at the prison as well, on top of JRMC and their own long-term care facilities, Monticello covered 12 calls in the Anamosa service area, too.

     Smith said it was important that both Monticello ambulances were staffed at all times, especially when one was needed in Anamosa.

     “We did not want to leave ourselves without service,” he said.

     The brand-new ambulance has already been put to good use.

     There were 11 calls to MNRC also in November, involving transports. Five of those calls were COVID-related.

     “Things were pretty ramped up there,” Smith said. “That’s double our normal month.”

     In comparison, the ambulance responded to six calls in the month of October to MNRC.

     Any time the ambulance is called out, Jones County Dispatch asks the caller a series of questions to determine whether it’s a COVID-related call or not.

     “They try to establish a known case or if the person is exhibiting symptoms,” Smith explained. “We treat all COVID calls as a positive case.” That means showing up in full PPE gear.

     Ambulance staff still wear PPE, a lesser-grade facemask, to non-COVID-related calls.

     The Monticello Ambulance Service has been lucky in that they have not experienced issues with running out of PPE.

     “In the beginning, things were scarce,” said Smith.

     At that time, they worked closely with Jones County Emergency Management/Brenda Leonard, to secure the necessary PPE. By June, though, Smith said they were pretty self-sufficient.

     “Production has ramped up and we’re able to get our own supplies through our own vendors.”

     Smith said it’s the smaller, volunteer-only ambulance services that are struggling, and where EMA comes in handy to assist with PPE supplies.

     “There’s limited funding for these smaller services to do that,” he added.

     With ambulance staff being exposed to COVID, whether on the job or outside of work, Smith said they’ve been lucky.

     “We’ve been able to cover all of our calls.”

     The downside, they’ve had to pull on the on-call staff more often than not.

     “Our on-call staff have been hit hard.”

     Smith praised the full-time and on-call staff for trying to maintain their own level to health and safety throughout the pandemic.

     “We might have had one or two people in isolation at any given time,” he said. “But everyone has done an amazing job of staying safe with the proper PPE, and disinfecting the rigs and work stations.”

     As December rolls in, Smith has already seen a slowdown in COVID calls.

     “It’s leveled off a bit,” he said.

     Unfortunately, there could be another spike in cases in mid-December, following gatherings on Thanksgiving, just before Christmas.

     Smith hopes that by the vaccine becomes available for healthcare/frontline workers and the at-risk population, they take full advantage of it.

     “Hopefully that significantly lowers the death rates and hospitalization rates,” he said.

     The Monticello Ambulance Service was one of the recipients of Cares Act funding, as well as COVID funds outside of the federal bill. That money will be used to offset increased operating costs such as fuel, vehicle operating costs, wages, supplies/PPE, etc.


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