It is almost as if the world has lost count of how many COVID-19 waves have hit it so far. In the United States, while some of the states have it well under control now, others do not. Some even contend that they are facing a fourth wave of the pandemic. One thing is for sure, medical flights have been at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. With the number of positive cases running into several thousand, it is obvious that a portion of these COVID-positive patients is in a serious health condition. Then there are those who are in areas that do not have enough hospital beds or adequate facilities to treat their conditions. Medical flights are the only recourse in these situations.
Medical Flights are Witnessing an Unprecedented Demand
The rural United States is highly dependent on medical flights when it comes to availing adequate treatment. With the pandemic penetrating several rural areas in the country, the demand surge has been very steep. The flight staff is under immense pressure to meet this demand. In this context, it must be noted that the staff of these medical flights must wear special personal protective equipment to keep themselves safe. This impedes their mobility and can be quite tough. The body heat that the gear retains can make the day’s work quite exhausting.
Most Companies are Offering Extra Support to their Staff
Employees of medical flights are not just facing physical exertion but also the mental stress that comes along with it. Prolonged work hours in tough conditions coupled with the fear of contracting the infection and putting their own families at risk is one of them. On their part, the organizations that run medical flights are keeping a close watch and offering support to their staff in these difficult times.
The air ambulance industry in the United Kingdom and the United States are quite evolved and highly regulated. They are considered an integral part of the overall emergency response infrastructure and healthcare in general. The air ambulance industry has proved its worthiness during the COVID spikes in both countries, especially in the United States. The air ambulance industry has done a great job connecting the rural United States to appropriate healthcare. However, the industry itself has not remained unaffected by the COVID situation. The increased safety and sanitization protocols have brought about an increase in costs and a dip in revenue but that is not all. Let’s look at the various aspects that have been affected by COVID.
The Air Ambulance Industry Adopted an Evolving Response
There was a time where some of the players in the air ambulance industry would have their personnel shower right after a rescue. However, times have changed since then. Today, the world knows a lot about the COVID-19 infection. The protocols have evolved accordingly. That being said, it must be noted that the virus is still evolving, which means the protocols continue to change. The air ambulance industry has been quick to adapt to such changes.
The Changes have Been for the Better
From PPEs to sanitization protocols, the air ambulance industry has made several changes since the start of the pandemic. Certain things like strict hand hygiene and masks remain. One major factor that the industry had quickly moved to tackle was the mental stress and anxiety that the pandemic brought about. The world over, it was recognized quickly and several companies in the air ambulance industry set up special cells to take care of this aspect. Certain restrictions remain. For instance, group training. However, this too will change as the world is being vaccinated rapidly today.
Medical flight professionals play an important role in offering life-saving services that range from triaging to offering emergency medical care on the spot and during transit. However, it must be observed that they perform these tasks in enclosed spaces with limited resources, both in terms of equipment and personnel. Rapid decisions and medical interventions are all a part of their daily routine. There is a constant need to keep in touch with medical experts on the ground. That’s not the end of it, the crew is expected to maintain a clear record of what has been done so that the transfer of care is smooth and seamless.
Best Practices for Medical Flight Professionals
The foremost thing to do is inform the receiving hospital about the status of the patient. If he or she is suspected of COVID-19 infection that must be made apparent. Even in the absence of a clear test report, if the patient is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, it is best to keep the receiving hospital informed. This is especially important as the protocol to receive a COVID-19 patient varies when compared to other health conditions. The practice can save several valuable minutes and appropriate care can be quickly provided upon landing.
Personal Care is Important
It is not possible to drastically modify most if the medical flight choppers to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Being in an enclosed space without a clear separation between the crew and the patient increases the risk of infection. However, PPE (personal protective equipment) offers an effective shield in this situation. It is reported that the PPE can be uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time, but it should not be a reason to compromise safety. Also, all mandated sanitization protocols laid down by the CDC and other government health agencies must be strictly adhered to.
Medical flight crews are at the frontline of the COVID-19 battle. While these brave men and women are tirelessly working for the good of patients, the fact remains that it is taking an immense toll on their mental health. The working conditions have drastically changed – sanitization and donning of PPE are necessary at every step. Not just that, there is the constant fear of contracting the infection and eventually passing it on to the loved ones. Torn between the sense of responsibility towards the society and to their families, medical flight crews are under tremendous pressure today. However, help is not far for such individuals.
Medical Flight Companies Recognize the Need to Help
Medical flight companies around the world are formulating policies that offer help when the crew members need it the most. Offering counseling and professional mental health on particularly tough days is one such effort. Also, companies are keeping an open line so that the frontline workers can seek help when they need it. Some of them are even going to the extent of preparing questionnaires to assess the mental status of the healthcare workers who constantly take to skies in tough situations.
William and Kate’s Foundation is Leading the Way
The two royals have been regularly advocating for the medical flight industry in the United Kingdom. Their efforts have been targeted at the mental health of frontline workers too. Now, they have set up a fund of British Pounds 1.8 million that will help this cause. The idea is to include the frontline workers as well as those affected heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their organization will lend a helping hand to 10 chosen charitable entities. Access to peer-to-peer support and mental health resources is among them. The effort will surely help when the anxiety level among medical flight crews is perhaps at its highest.
Disinfecting the air ambulance has become one of the topmost concerns for the industry today. The problems that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth are unprecedented. It is, therefore, no surprise that air ambulance companies are grappling to find an effective protocol that can be followed. When one refers to safety, it’s all-inclusive today – from the crew members to the patients. Here are some steps that are highly recommended.
Follow a Consistent Air Ambulance Disinfection Protocol
The Centers for Disease Control in the United States recommends that air ambulance companies follow a consistent protocol. The basic rule is to ensure adequate ventilation during the cleaning process, especially when using chemical disinfectants. The aircraft doors should remain open during this process.
Wearing Personal Protective Equipment is Necessary
Donning personal protective equipment or PPE is very important. Keep in mind that the Coronavirus can remain on surfaces for hours. You do not want to contract the infection by coming in direct contact with it during the cleaning process. Discard the PPE right after the cleaning process is complete.
Adequate Ventilation is Very Important
It is hard to provide ventilation when an air ambulance has taken off. However, an adequate inlet of light is helpful. When the air ambulance is not in use, care must be taken to allow adequate airflow too. This is particularly helpful in getting rid of airborne infections like the COVID-19.
Using Appropriate Disinfectants is Absolutely Vital
Bleach is very widely used as a disinfectant but can give rise to noxious fumes. A detergent-based disinfectant is most effective. This is because the Coronavirus is covered by a layer of fat and soaps are known to dissolve fat instantly. The process instantly kills COVID-19.
Disposal of Soiled Linens
It is highly recommended that the soiled linen is not shaken in any way and is disposed of in a careful manner so that any infection-causing virus is not transferred to the surrounding surface.
It is imperative that the guidelines laid down by agencies like the CDC are followed meticulously. There is no substitute for these life-saving guidelines.
The job of the air ambulance professionals is tough no doubt but it has gotten tougher owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the healthcare workers are exposed to the risk of contracting the Coronavirus infection which has enveloped the world in a dreadful storm. While the usual precautions that are taken by the general public apply to the air ambulance professionals too, there are additional precautions that are expected to be taken by these frontline workers. Washing hands, keeping alcohol-based sanitizers, and face masks apart from protective bodysuits are just a few of the obvious ones. We take a look at other precautions that must be taken by the medical flight workers.
CPR is a Risk for Air Ambulance Professionals
A lot of the emergency calls that air ambulance professionals receive are related to drug overdoses and cardiovascular problems. Both of these conditions can necessitate cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR. However, in the face of the Coronavirus infection, this can pose a real, life-threatening problem to the healthcare workers. The constant compression of the chest can release salivary particles that can enter the system of a healthy individual through the air or simply settle down on the clothing. If the CPR is being conducted in a closed environment, the risk can compound itself greatly.
Only the Very Serious Emergencies Must be Attended
Even hospitals today are considering only tending to the very serious cases that need hospital attention. The emergency department professionals are donning full protective gear when taking a look at emergency cases. The reason for this is obvious: they have no idea whether the symptoms are because of COVID-19.
Hospital emergency departments are asking the frontline on-the-field healthcare workers to wait for a while and try to revive them before even considering bringing them to the hospital for further care.
Prince William has spoken out about the psychological toll that the air ambulance industry takes on individuals that power it. Having worked as an air ambulance pilot himself, it has often been witnessed that when he highlights the issues concerning the industry, the world takes notice. He did it again recently this month. He shared how he had to, sometimes, ferry children who were in critical condition and how it ‘took him over the edge’. He called the air ambulance industry professionals to be open about the mental health challenges that they encounter on a regular basis and to seek help.
Seeking Help trough Colleagues
People sailing in the same boat often understand and are empathetic towards each other. Same is the case with air ambulance industry professionals. It becomes easy to open up to fellow colleagues about issues that affect them mentally. Talking things out is known to lighten the woes of the mind and to get a better perspective of life. Family and friends too can be a great source to get those nagging thoughts out of the mind. Awareness must be created in the industry. It must be conveyed that talking it out is healthy.
Mental Issues and Employers
Mentally healthy employees are always more productive. Plus, it is the responsibility of the employer to take care of the employees. This is not limited to physical well being but also the mental well being. The air ambulance industry today is governed heavily when it comes to safety of the crew and the patients when in midair. This ensures physical well being. However, laws must be enacted to protect mental well being of the workforce too. Easy access to mental health professionals is prime among them. It must be noted, in this context, that many players in the air ambulance industry are cognizant of this need and have created an ecosystem to promote mental health.
Working in the air ambulance industry can bring to fore those hidden emotions that people tend to burry up and no person is impervious to such emotional shakeup. Take for instance Prince Williams. The Duke has been quite vocal lately about mental health issues. However, he has hardly spoken about the loss of his mother out in public, apart from one time when he was about 15 years old. He lately opened up about it in the context of his stint as an air ambulance pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance company. He had been a part of it for about two years.
Prince William, Air Ambulance and His Emotions
The Prince had previously been a part of the nation’s defense forces and had ever served in Afghanistan. However, what churned up his hidden emotions related to his mother, Princess Diana, was his job as an air ambulance pilot. He said, finding himself in situations where death was always a possibility was hard to take on a daily basis. He added that the job as medical flight pilot made him depressed and the memories of having lost his mother at a young age surfaced quite often. He made his revelation as part of a documentary.
William Sharing His Feelings Sheds Light on the Mental Status of Air Ambulance Personnel
Air ambulance services are availed for life-threatening emergencies most of the time. The suffering patients who are under a lot of distress and struggling to stay alive can be quite impactful on the minds of the personnel. All this, while the crew cannot let their emotions get the better of them. Suppressing emotions becomes a norm and this pent up feeling can eventually lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. The industry needs to tackle this very seriously and focus towards having a mechanism that takes care of the mental wellbeing of the crew.
Medical air transport professionals are usually the first to respond to emergency calls and trauma scenes are sometimes very stressful to handle with death and serious injuries being a part of it. Medical air transport professionals do not even get time to let the situation sink in as they are expected to act immediately. This can cause quite a lot of mental trauma to them. Added to this is the physical stress of the entire situation where they have to move the patient, equipment, etc., so that lives can be saved.
Common Mental Ailments among Medical Air Transport Personnel
Research shows that depression, PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, fatigue and anxiety are highly prevalent among medical air transport professionals. The tragedy of the matter is that they do not often get time to introspect into their mental wellbeing because of the situations that they often find themselves in where they are expected to be highly reactive to the surroundings. By the time they realize their mental state, they are already deep into these psychological ailments. While it is a shared responsibility of the employers and the personnel, here are some tips to stay mentally healthy.
Tips for Mental Health
- Increasing mindfulness through meditation: Meditation allows people to take a step back and introspect. All the deeply buried feelings come to surface and one becomes in-tuned with his or her own mental state. The ability to detach oneself from sufferings around is greatly increased.
- Confiding in others: Every person has friends or colleagues that they can talk to. Getting certain things out of our system can help. It’s a sort of an outlet. Medical air transport professionals can also make use of in-house psychologists to open up. Even keeping a journal can help.
- Exercising to reduce stress: Endorphins that result from exercise can get rid of stress to a huge extent. Air ambulance professionals must make physical activity of their choice a part of their daily routine.
Finally, it is vital that people speak out when they are under stress. There is nothing wrong in seeking help when it is warranted.
You operate a company or a charity that provides critical medical flight service to residents in your region. While you do your best to ensure that patients get the care they need, there’s a chance you’re neglecting the valued employees working for you. You should take care to pay attention to your flight crew to ensure that they’re not suffering from one of the most common issues among medical care personnel – sleep deprivation.
Detecting Sleep Deprivation Among Crew Members
It’s important to keep a close eye on your crew members to make sure they’re not suffering from excessive fatigue and/or sleep deprivation. This will help you take precautions on time and get them the rest they badly need so they can provide better quality of medical flight service. While it’s not easy to identify whether or not an individual is sleep deprived, try to watch out for these signs to help make the task easier:
- Excessive yawning
- Regular eye-rubbing
- Frequent blinking
- Trouble keeping their eyes open
Well-Rested Crew Members Provide Better Medical Flight Service
If you notice that a certain employee is displaying some of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s time you direct them to a room or area in which they can get their badly-needed rest. It’s crucial that you assign a dedicated room or area in which your staff members can get as much sleep as they need when they’re too burnt out.
Ideally, you should also prepare the room to remove any distractions such as light and sound. Try to install blackout shades and a white noise machine if possible. And make sure there’s a sign outside to show others that one of their friends is getting the rest they so badly need. Ensuring that your crew members get plenty of rest is a great way to maintain an energetic and alert team that’s mentally and physically equipped to provide quality medical care.