Mehlville Fire Protection District launches mobile healthcare screenings for COVID-19

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Mehlville Fire Protection District critical-care paramedics, in a photo provided by the fire district.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

A dedicated unit of Mehlville Fire Protection District critical-care paramedics will perform in-home health screenings for district residents who are experiencing coronavirus symptoms through a new “COVID Mobile” program that launched this week.

The new COVID Mobile program will not administer COVID-19 tests, but instead will visit patients to assess their condition, take vital signs, and recommend an appropriate course of action ranging from home monitoring to immediate transport to the emergency room.

“For some patients exhibiting mild symptoms, avoiding a crowded emergency department may be desirable,” said MFPD Chief Brian Hendricks in a news release.  “We will be able to provide patients with guidelines and, in some cases, diagnostic equipment to help them stay and recover at home.”

Launching on Wednesday, April 8, COVID Mobile will operate from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., seven days a week.

District residents should request appointments via a form posted on the front page of Mehlville Fire Protection District’s website, www.mehlvillefire.com.

The fire district initiated the program to help free up capacity in local hospitals as cases increase, Hendricks said in an interview with The Call.

Right now, fire district ambulances are taking about eight to 10 patients who have either tested positive for coronavirus or are presumptive positive — meaning they match all the symptoms but couldn’t get tested — to hospitals. Many have been discharged the same day because their symptoms could have been managed at home if they had known what to do, the chief said.

Any resident who is short of breath or feels they need to go to the hospital can still call 911, and the fire district will respond.

But residents who are experiencing more minor symptoms or aren’t sure what to do or whether what they have is coronavirus can use the form to schedule an appointment.

In responding to calls, the district found that many people were scared or didn’t know what to do if they had symptoms, whether they could get a test or not. COVID Mobile is meant to address that by giving them options and treatment without going straight to the hospital.

“We recognized the concern in the community, we recognized that people —  whether they were frustrated because they couldn’t get a test or they were frustrated because they wanted to know am I positive or not? — people get scared, and when people get scared, after awhile they turn to the 911 system, and then we of course take them in,” Hendricks said. “So that’s why the COVID Mobile program came in, to start addressing those issues in the home. Most people will resolve their symptoms of this without medical care.”

Once a person schedules an appointment through COVID Mobile, a group of critical-care paramedics will arrive in an ambulance to handle the call in full personal protective equipment, or PPE .

The paramedics can do the health screenings on the front porch if that makes the resident more comfortable, Hendricks said.

But if the person is in bed or wants the screening inside, that can be done too.

The paramedics — both critical-care and community paramedics, who have received a higher certification — will conduct a complete health screening on the patient in the home, taking a full set of vital signs.

They might even leave behind a pulse oximetry unit after showing the resident how to use it. With the unit, the resident will be able to monitor their own oxygen levels.

“We’ll teach them how to use it, we’ll tell them what the numbers mean and when they get to a certain point, if they move in a negative direction that’ll be what prompts them to call,” Hendricks said. “And then of course if they get scared at any time, they can call and we’d be happy to take them in.”

The COVID Mobile program is repurposing the existing Mehlville Mobile integrated health unit, which makes house visits to the district’s high-volume 911 callers and has led to a dramatic decline in emergency visits from those patients.