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Coronavirus prompts changes in 911 protocol

Fire Department ambulances, which go through a sanitary

Fire Department ambulances, which go through a sanitary cleaning after each ride with patients, on March 21. Credit: Randee Daddona

Emergency medical service crews, overwhelmed with 911 calls as the number of coronavirus cases across Long Island continues to climb, are relying on a state-issued pandemic flow chart to determine which patients need to be transported to hospitals. 

The flow chart, issued by the New York State Department of Health, instructs EMS crews to transport patients to a medical facility if they exhibit coronavirus symptoms such as a fever or a cough and they have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. If the patients do not meet criteria outlined in the flow chart, EMTs are instructed to leave them at home. 

“We need to relieve pressure on the hospitals so you don’t want to take someone who is relatively healthy,” said Chief Gregory Miglino of the South Country Ambulance company in Bellport. “We also don’t want to take someone who is healthy to a hospital where they will be exposed to the virus.”  

Before the pandemic, people who seek assistance for a medical emergency would usually be transported to a health care facility, said Nassau police medic Kris Kalender, and the flow chart has helped EMTs determine who needs to be rushed to a hospital and who should stay at home. 

“Not everyone who calls 911 is going to the hospital now,” said Kalender, the president of Civil Service Employees Association Local 830 police medics unit. 

Miglino said 911 centers have been flooded with calls from anxious residents who fear a sore throat or muscle aches indicate they have been infected with the coronavirus. Staff at 911 centers have been instructed to ask a series of questions about a patient’s symptoms and medical history to weed out “hand-holding calls” that don’t require EMTs. 

Officials in Nassau County urged medical first responders in a March 27 advisory not to transport patients in cardiac arrest to hospitals if they cannot be resuscitated at the scene. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic, patients who were not revived after 20 minutes in the field were usually transported to the emergency room, where they were pronounced dead, officials said. Now, they won't go to a hospital unless a designated doctor approves. Those pronounced dead at the scene will now be taken directly to a morgue or a funeral home, officials said.

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