With the massive social and personal changes that have occurred nationwide, adaptability is a critical trait to possess. Residents are encouraged to remain home and continue to self-isolate, which is creating the opportunity for innovation and evolution.
Howard County healthcare professionals and first responders have joined together to investigate and address the medical needs of the community. As county services are extending their efforts in serving members of the community, Battalion Chief David Sabat, of the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, notes that the versatility and communication between the various response departments have greatly assisted in analyzing what patients are experiencing at home. This analysis allows them to adjust medical procedures to better meet the patient’s needs.
Sabat has been serving the community for nearly two decades. Hailing from Trenton, New Jersey, he attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County studying emergency health services management. Sabat, remaining in Maryland, initially volunteered with Howard County until he was hired by the Department of Fire and Rescue Services in 2003. He has held a number of roles throughout his career, including station captain. Sabat is now a battalion chief and manages EMS operations for Howard County Fire and Rescue. Sabat says he was especially proud to join the department because of its reputation for quality patient care. Despite having a modest sized department, Sabat states that Fire and Rescue consistently strives to holistically address the needs of the community.
As COVID-19 began to spread throughout the county, Fire and Rescue developed a Rapid Response Team to assist with the overflow of new hospital patients. Initially, the goal of the RRT was to create teams of mobile integrated health paramedics tasked with acting as the bridge between the hospital and the public. The teams would help alleviate the impact on hospitals that were already treating a high number of people, particularly patients experiencing medical issues that needed to be evaluated for the necessity of hospital care. However, the initial goal for the teams was never realized. Howard County residents took an abundance of caution when contacting medical professionals, actually decreasing the number of emergency calls by 30 percent. Many individuals who called with symptoms of medical issues were wary of contracting the virus at the hospital, and in some cases delayed reaching out for medical assistance.
This led to the reevaluation of the Rapid Response Teams and a countywide collaboration between departments on how to better serve Howard County. After shifting the focus of the teams to primarily hospital assistance, mobile integrated health paramedics continued to evaluate the emergency response number and provide follow-ups on noncritical patients, while also transitioning into decontamination teams. Their new challenge is to expedite the process of disinfecting and releasing medical transport vehicles as quickly and safely as possible, with stringent cleaning procedures as well as utilizing ultraviolet light to facilitate contamination.
Additionally, Fire and Rescue created the role of hospital liaison, in which a uniformed member of the department serves as a contact for both the department and hospital while addressing staff needs in real-time. They are a vital resource to medical transport by maintaining communication regarding proper protective attire and patient records. Although this multi-pronged approach to hospital patients has only been in effect for a short time, there has already been a positive response to the streamlining of care that individuals have received.
Sabat notes that the hospital liaison is an extremely effective position to have in place, and has become one of the biggest successes since the beginning of the pandemic. “Leadership from hospital emergency management, the health department, and Fire and Rescue have conference calls three times a week,” Sabat shares, adding, “And each time we meet, we’re asking, ‘What new steps are we taking this week? How can we all do things better?’” The bonds between the departments have become hyper-elevated throughout the duration of the quarantine, becoming more proficient with the growing number of patients and saving lives in the process.
Sabat says that the nimbleness of the department is one of the aspects that he most admires.
He personally does not live in Howard County, but takes great pride in each department’s willingness to modify their behavior to better match the needs of the community. Likewise, the support that Sabat and his colleagues receive from each other and their families has become an even stronger safety net. “Not one single person in my department has to shoulder the entire burden of dealing with this alone,” Sabat said. As the husband of an educator, and father to two children, he is thankful to be surrounded by a personal and professional support system that is dedicated to taking care of each other.
Despite the uncertain future, Sabat and the rest of Howard County’s public safety and health departments are looking for ways to mitigate the spread of the virus through careful planning and continual testing. The operations currently in place for hospital treatment will continue well into flu season later this year, and with the conservative reopening on May 15th, Sabat cautions individuals to be mindful of maintaining social distancing as best as they can. “Right now, boredom during the pandemic is also equal to lives saved,” he said. In the future, Sabat is looking forward to how the department can grow from the gaps that the virus has exposed, working to evolve into an even stronger resource for the community. Personally, Sabat says he can’t wait for an opportunity to relax with his family with his phone ringer turned off.