On the front line in the battle against COVID-19

Chris Kastelan

Central Coast paramedics are feeling the strain in their role as front-line workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian Paramedics Association State President, Chris Kastelan, who has been stationed on the Central Coast since 2004, said an increased workflow since the pandemic was declared had seen an already busy service stretched to its limits.

“I’ve been a paramedic for 23 years,” Kastelan, of Terrigal, said.
“We’ve noticed a real increase in call outs.
“Lots of people are calling 000 when they have respiratory conditions, whether they are minor or severe, and wanting the paramedics to check them out.

“We have been transporting people to hospitals when we think their symptoms could be COVID-19 related and a small percentage of those have had diagnoses confirmed following testing.”
But many calls, Kastelan said, were made due to a heightened level of anxiety in the community by people unlikely to have the virus.
He is keen to ensure people with minor ailments stay out of emergency and ambulances.

“If people have concerns and have recently been overseas or in contact with someone who has had a positive diagnosis for COVID-19, they should see their GP in the first instance and take advantage of the special testing clinics at Gosford and Wyong hospitals.”
“We’re out there and we are somewhat frightened – we all have children and elderly relatives,” he said.

“But ultimately, we choose to work with people who are unwell, and that includes if they suspect that they have COVID-19.
“We take every precaution, we wear protective gowns, masks, gloves, even goggles, and we change them as appropriate and deep clean our equipment and vehicle before we go back out on the road.

“We have fever checks before every shift, and if we have respiratory symptoms, we are told to go home.
Kastelan was just coming off a 13 hour shift when he spoke to Coast Community News.

“Of course when we go home, we have to isolate like any other member of the community.
“Some paramedics are having to self-isolate even from their families because they have come into contact with a COVID-19 positive case.
“As a single father I have found this challenging.
“Being with family is a great way to destress, but I am not doing that at the moment.”

Paramedics, he said, were suffering from cumulative anxiety and fatigue, but relief is at hand, with NSW Ambulance conducting training sessions to recruit more paramedics.
“The first of them won’t come out of training until mid-May and, even then, the new recruits will need to be assigned with experienced paramedics at first,” he said.

“Given the current workload, which is already enormous, with the pandemic on top of it, there is a lot of burn-out and fatigue.”
Kastelan said that at the beginning of the pandemic, there was “a lot of concern” about the amount of personal protective equipment available.
“We seem to have caught up with demand for that equipment at the moment, but if the pandemic goes on for an extended period of time, it could become a problem in the future,” he said.

“We are being told to prepare for a mid-term event which means that we are looking at months, rather than days or weeks.”
Kastelan said that paramedics often copped verbal and sometimes physical abuse.
“I worked with a paramedic who was assaulted the week before by an inebriated gentleman who was subsequently charged.
“We’re in it for the long run, although it would be nice if it was shorter,” he said.

Interview, Apr 3
Australian Paramedics Association State President, Chris Kastelan
Reporter: Terry Collins