Ballston Spa

Saratoga County EMS coordinator logging 7 days a week to keep medical workers supplied, informed

McEvoy has been involved in emergency medicine since he was a teenager
Saratoga County EMS coordinator Mike McEvoy works inside the county offices in Ballston Spa in early April.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Saratoga County EMS coordinator Mike McEvoy works inside the county offices in Ballston Spa in early April.

Categories: Rising to the Challenge, Saratoga County, Special Sections

BALLSTON SPA — For nearly three decades, Mike McEvoy has been the person who has made sure emergency medical technicians and paramedics across Saratoga County have the training and tools they need to do their life-saving jobs.

As the county’s EMS coordinator, the 60-year-old Clifton Park resident is now facing some of his greatest challenges, as the county’s ambulance crews and medically trained firefighting personnel have responded to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 — the sort of thing emergency responders train for in better times and are now putting into practice.

McEvoy also works for the Clifton Park-Halfmoon EMS and Albany Medical Center, and is executive editor of the Journal of Emergency Medical Service. But during the pandemic, he’s been at the county emergency center in Ballston Spa more than full time, working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week — and he is awed, he said, by the dedication of the first responders he works with.

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Saratoga County has roughly 1,200 EMTs and paramedics, with a roughly 50-50 division between paid professionals and dedicated volunteers.

A native of New York City, McEvoy has been involved in emergency medicine since he was a teenager. He has lived in Saratoga County since the early 1980s, when he was chief of what was then the Saratoga Springs ambulance service. He answered questions from the Daily Gazette in early April.

Q: Do emergency medical professionals train for this sort of pandemic scenario?

A: The first time we started focusing on infectious disease was in 2013, brought on by the Ebola virus, which was brought to this country but never became a problem. The state told all ambulances in the state that they had to train all responding crew members in infectious disease control and response.

Subsequent to Ebola, there were (other viruses) SARS and MERS, and those weren’t as dangerous as Ebola — so the lessons we learned from Ebola we were able to translate to every crew on the street. Then came the H1N1 flu virus. We were able to have everyone in the ambulances and fire departments prepared and trained to respond.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: How has that training stood up now that there’s an actual pandemic?

A: When our first (COVID-19) patient appeared in Saratoga County, the emergency crew that responded (from Saratoga) was well-prepared and actually perfectly calm about it. It’s [an] airborne disease, so the first thing they did was put a mask on the patient. We’re in flu season, so putting a mask on them was routine for any patient. Then they put on N-95 masks and goggles and suits themselves.

And they wore gloves. Since then, there have been literally hundreds and hundreds of cases. There’s a pretty standardized approach.

Q: What does your day look like during this outbreak?

A. The amount of information and misinformation out there is just voluminous, so a key function I play is sorting out information that comes from the state and from our own people, and from the Centers [for] Disease Control, and then getting the information out to our people. There is a lot of conflicting information out there, even from authoritative sources. The information is always changing. So that’s a primary role.

The other role I play is getting personal protective equipment. We receive a lot of donations at the county Office of Emergency Services and we also receive stored PPE from the state, and then we distribute that out to the departments. We’re giving information out on vendors who have supplies.

Q: Are there shortages of PPE in Saratoga County?

A: There definitely are some problems for our departments with backorders. They’re being told orders they had placed earlier won’t be filled for several months. With everyone working together, I don’t see that we have significant shortages right now. We’re doing OK, but it changes every day.

Q: Are there concerns about the exposure of front-line responders because this virus is so contagious?

A: There is new guidance being issued all the time. It really isn’t more contagious than other viruses, it’s more deadly.

Q: Are you surprised that even in the United States with its level of medical care, this virus appears to kill about 3 percent of those who become ill, which is about the same percentage as in other countries?

A: I think that the approach to it around the world is similar. I don’t know that anyone has a superior way to deal with this.

Q: What about medical responders who have been exposed to the virus?

A: With all the people working on the front lines that are getting exposed, we’ve had a number of cases of COVID-19. For our people, we want to make sure they are taken care of, that they get tested, that they are quarantined for the proper amount of time and that they return to work safely. It’s concerning to everyone. We are working with the county Public Health Department to coordinate their care.

Q: What about addressing the psychological impact on responders?

A: We’ve been doing a lot of work with the county Department of Mental Health, and there is a program specific to fire and ambulance personnel, to help keep morale up.

Q: Why have you stayed involved in emergency medicine for more than 40 years?

A: Originally, I got involved because I had seen some accidents occur where I felt very helpless and I wanted to know what to do. It’s about helping people, which is a cliché. The more exciting aspect is that you have a front seat to what everyone else sees [on] TV. You have a chance to really participate and make a difference.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: And there are good outcomes and bad outcomes?

A: Every day.

Q: Do you enjoy the challenge of dealing with the unexpected?

A: Everything we do is really dealing with the unexpected. You are always dealing with people who are not having a good day.

Q: What do you think of how emergency medical personnel have responded to the demands placed on them during the pandemic?

A: In our county, I think the response has been excellent, all the way from folks answering 911 calls to the people providing care in the ambulances. They are doing an outstanding job, and I am in awe of them every day.

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