For students on UVM Rescue, working on the front lines of the Covid-19 crisis means staying behind when most others are gone. To keep their staff and patients safe, they’re employing a high-level disinfectant and following proper disposal of PPE after every suspected case of the virus they come into contact with. (Photo: Ryan Wiklund)
KAITLIN SHEA CATANIA
May 7, 2020
When the University of Vermont made the tough decision to shift to remote methods of learning in March, a select few students on staff at UVM Rescue made an equally tough call: to stay behind and continue providing emergency medical services to the community during critical times. “Our department doesn’t stop running when school isn’t in session,” says Lanie Billings ’21, director of operations for UVM Rescue and a rising senior studying health sciences.
The student organization, comprised of about 35 emergency medical technicians (EMT), advanced EMTs and ambulance drivers, runs a licensed Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance and responds to calls near campus and in the surrounding Burlington, Winooski and Shelburne areas. They operate 24-hours a day, 7-days a week and, yes, even during pandemics. In response to Covid-19, the team decided collectively to reduce staffing down to essential crew only, minimizing risk and exposure to the virus. Billings is one of about 15 others who volunteered to stay in Burlington and respond to calls.
“Most of us run with that mentality that we want to help, we’re here to help. It’s kind of a second nature mindset to say, ‘Nope, we’re staying,’” she says, noting that each individual’s choice was respected by the team. But for Billings — and surely others who remained behind — explaining that choice to family members proved a bit more difficult. “They were hesitant as any parent would be, but ultimately they understand that I’m trained to a level of healthcare that’s needed right now. Working on the frontlines is not an easy task for anyone, but I think all of us take pride in the service we give and our parents see the hard work we’re doing.”
While UVM Rescue typically responds to about eight cases on average each day, they’ve seen a decline in cases down to about two to four each day during Vermont’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order and with social distancing measures in place. “We never really know what to expect, but we’re always prepared and ready to respond to whatever comes through. I think we’re all managing pretty well,” says Billings, who’s assisted in calls from chest and abdominal pains to drug overdoses.
Like other healthcare professionals and essential personnel, UVM Rescue is outfitted with gowns, gloves, N95 masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and follows strict procedures for using and discarding contaminated PPE. “It’s different, right? I find myself thinking a lot more about making sure that I’m prepared going into a call. It’s a complete change in dynamic of the way I’ve run calls for the past three years,” says Amanda Locke ’20, a recent nursing graduate and former director of operations at UVM Rescue, who is currently serving alongside Billings. “But I believe in my PPE and equipment, and if I put it on right and take it off the right way, it keeps me safe.”
“We’re very prepared,” says Billings. “We’ve had great support from the university and the state in making sure we have all the appropriate equipment, that we’ve been trained to the level of proficiency we need to provide our services safely. All the right steps are in place.”