IU Health LifeLine team: Protected, positioned and prepared

We are IU Health

April 14, 2020

It’s been said that people who work in emergency care are driven by the sense of urgency. It’s that sense of urgency that has LifeLine crewmembers constantly preparing for a variety of challenging circumstances involving COVID-19.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

They are trained to arrive at a home, hospital, or accident scene, and assess and react. Their focus is on protecting themselves and protecting the patient for ground or air transport.

And now there is a new twist to their care – it’s the rapidly growing COVID-19 virus. So how have IU Health LifeLine crewmembers prepared for the unexpected?

“I think preparation for things like this is core to our DNA,” said Cory Hall, a statewide director of emergency services. He added that team members practiced similar protection skills last year when the World Health Organization declared the Congo Ebola outbreak a world health emergency. “So in the background we’ve had methods of preparation, but did I anticipate this would affect our operation so dramatically? No,” said Hall, who has worked with IU Health LifeLine for nine years.

Since the beginning of March they logged 30 transports where a patient had either been diagnosed or presented symptoms of COVID-19. That number is increasing weekly.

The majority of preparation began the first week of March, said Shawn Remick, also a statewide manager for LifeLine. “When we recognized the need to transport the patients and make sure we had PPE (personal protective equipment) we moved quickly to a new model,” said Remick, who has been with IU Health LifeLine for six years.

Here’s a breakdown of what that model looks like:

  • The first line of action is dispatchers screen every patient over the phone. A sort of triage tool determines a patient’s immediate needs, in compliance with the CDC guidelines. IU Health LifeLine averages about 100 screenings a day.
  • Next, there are two plans of action. If a patient is not diagnosed with COVID or does not qualify as a person under investigation for the virus, then an air or ground transport is dispatched according to everyday operations. If the patient screens potentially positive, or presents a risk factor, the call is escalated to triage officers with critical care experience who offer a second review. They may ask questions such as “Have you had a chest x-ray?” or “Are you using a ventilator?”

“One of the core things we’re mindful of is various hazards that can evolve such as if the patient is on a ventilator the virus can aerosolize so we need protection from airborne contaminants,” said Hall.

  • In that case an additional team member is deployed as a safety officer. That emergency technician ensures other team members have the protective gear and the proper equipment for a safe transport with minimal delays. For ground transports, LifeLine has equipped an ambulance specifically for airborne isolation

All LifeLine team members are trained in the use of personal protective equipment – such as choosing the right size and properly removing the equipment said Remick. “As this changes hour by hour there is additional training. We want to be sure we always have the most up-to-date information and we are using that as we continue our day to day operation.”

As an additional layer of assistance, Hall and Remick are rounding more frequently to the various LifeLine bases throughout the state to check in on team members.

“We have an incredible responsibility to be in a constant state of readiness to support IU Health and all Hoosiers,” said Hall. “I think the biggest drive for us it to keep our team safe. We work in a high-risk environment and I think because we are so accustomed to the risks in our work we work harder to mitigate the exposure, a heighten safety, and keep our system connected. We have an overwhelming pride and appreciation for our team. They not only do transports safely but they are giving outstanding clinical care to complex patients.”

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