Workers of Universal Ambulance services Limited demonstrate how they sanitise an Ambulance after transporting a COVID patient at their compound in La Romaine, yesterday.

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A cry of many people suffering from debilitating COVID-19 symptoms is that ambulances either take too long or never arrives to take them to the hospital for urgent care. But with the daily COVID-19 cases averaging over 500, Universal Ambulances Services has seen a significant increase in people requesting their vehicles to take them to and from hospitals and COVID-19 facilities. Director Ornella Khan said Universal usually services industrial companies. While people can request their ambulance service, the increase means they had to designate staff and some of their fleet towards dealing with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. Acknowledging reports that the national ambulance service is overwhelmed, Khan says the La Romaine based company is supplementing the public’s need.”Now, with the public sector being short of ambulances, we had a lot of people calling and saying, well, the ambulance not responding. They have family members who are not able to get to the hospital in time, and they are having breathing difficulties,” Khan said.The company is receiving an average of 15 calls per day from people requiring these services. It is apart from their regular service to transport the elderly and patients with chronic ailments to various facilities. “It has increased since May month, after Easter, when the spike happened. We have been getting, on average, say 15 calls a day.”Khan said not all suspected cases turn out to be positive as even though people experience flu-like symptoms, they sometimes fall ill with other sicknesses. However, once they display those symptoms, the company follows its COVID-19 protocols. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) supervisor Keith Roberts said once a request reaches Universal’s call centre, the attendant screens the patients to determine what kind of response is needed. Once a patient has flu-like symptoms, the EMTs don themselves in full personal protective equipment and use the ambulances designated for COVID-19 response. The medics would take to the patient to the hospital, and if he or she requires Universal’s assistance to reach a COVID-19 care facility, the orders must come from the Ministry of Health. After a job, the team returns to the company base to sanitise the ambulance and themselves. Roberts said Universal responds to calls throughout Trinidad. For frontline medical workers, it is scary as they face a greater risk of contracting the disease, given their constant exposure to infected patients. “My family would be cautious when I get home. They would keep their distance until I get inside, removed my clothing, and take a shower. But even after that, they would still be cautious because the potential for me getting infected with COVID is still higher than the average person,” Roberts said.It can also be traumatising as by the time the medics arrive at people’s homes, the patients are struggling to breathe and unable to move. Olive Ramgoolam said while medics are often concerned about themselves, they have to put that fear aside for the sake of patients. “These patients are scared. They think from what they hear that they are going to die. They have this mindset that they are preparing themselves for death. We have to give these patients the proper reassurance, care and attention to assure them that this is not death, that with proper healthcare, they could get well,” Ramgoolam said. With more and more sick people resorting to private ambulance services for help, she said it adds proof that COVID-19 was no minor issue. Ramgoolam says that while frontline medical staff do their duty to fight this pandemic, so too should the population.