Emergency medical team, who volunteered to treat coronavirus evacuees in Trenton, are seasoned veterans
|Toronto Star 14 Feb 2020 at 21:29|
Ontario’s always-ready medical crisis team has been deployed to communities staggered by tornados and stalked by mental health crises. The healthcare providers who choose to do this work are trained to respond to chemical spills and catastrophic explosions.
When Ontario’s Emergency Medical Assistance Team got the call to deploy to CFB Trenton, the quarantine zone for planeloads of Canadian citizens and permanent residents evacuated from the epicentre of the novel coronavirus epidemic in China, they were confident, team leaders say.
“Everyone who is part of the team knows that the situations they could be part of are high-profile. They represent a crisis or a challenge to the province’s healthcare system,” says Steve Urszenyi, EMAT’s commander and program manager.
“These are all highly trained medical professionals, in their own full time day jobs, who recognize that they have a hunger to help other people … and the confidence to go out and provide that help, because they know they have the training, the skills and the abilities.”
Flying into circumstances from which others are fleeing, in order to help those who can’t leave, is the whole point, team members say.
The evacuees in Trenton are quarantined in a country suffering from a larger epidemic of misinformation, fear, and discrimination than of actual coronavirus cases. They are stuck in a particularly unique version of this plight.
In addition to tending to the bodily health concerns of the evacuees, EMAT has provided round-the-clock mental health support.
“A lot of people are very, very worried about their family … back in Wuhan,” says Nathan Kelly, an EMAT member and registered nurse with specialized mental health training who finished a nine-day deployment to Trenton on Thursday night.
EMAT was created in 2004 in the wake of the SARS outbreak, which overwhelmed Ontario’s healthcare system. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were still fresh, too.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health recognized the need for a crisis response team that could absorb some of the surge during a future outbreak, and respond to other disasters and emergencies.
The Emergency Medical Assistance Team, the first of its kind in Canada, is a provincially-funded group, operated by Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, one the country’s foremost trauma and emergency hospitals.
The nurses, paramedics, social workers, and doctors who are part of EMAT live and work in different parts of the province, so that if all of about 160 of them were needed at one time, no single community would be depleted. (EMAT members, who typically have full-time jobs as well, apply to join and voluntarily put their names forward for deployments, but are paid for their work.)
The team has responded to a huge variety of emergencies and events.
They deployed to the Ottawa area after tornados tore through it in September 2018, causing serious injuries, power blackouts, and widespread damage.
A mental health team travelled to Attawapiskat First Nation in 2016 as a youth suicide crisis devastated the community.
They were positioned in Ottawa during the Canada 150 celebrations as a precaution for any mass casualty event.
They have trained for any number of disasters, natural and manmade.
But the Trenton operation, a rapid response to an infectious disease, is why this program was invented in the first place.
“We’ve learned a lot from SARS. The province is much, much better prepared today than we were 17 years ago,” says Patrick Auger, EMAT incident commander.