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Local fire chiefs, town managers learn of COVID-19 outbreak at North East Mobile Health Services

By Susan Mustapich | Nov 18, 2020
Source: File photo North East Ambulance CEO Butch Russell is communicating with area fire chiefs and town managers regarding a COVID-19 outbreak at its Rockport location.

ROCKPORT — Area fire chiefs were the first to hear about a COVID-19 outbreak Nov. 13, among staff at North East Mobile Health Services in Rockport.

North East Mobile provides 911-emergency ambulance service to Camden, Rockport, Hope and Lincolnville and transports patients between Maine Health and other heath care facilities.

Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley first heard about the outbreak from Rockport Fire Chief Jason Peasley and Chief of Rockland Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chris Whytock. At that point, the information was multiple North East staff members had tested positive.

Jonathan Powers, North East Mobile's Operation Manager for the Rockport division said he reached out to the fire chiefs Nov. 13, under guidance from the company's Scarborough office. Town managers were also contacted Nov. 13, and the information they received was posted on the company's website that day, he said. This information can be found at www.nemhs.com/covid-19, and is updated regularly, Powers said.

On Nov. 15, Maine Centers for Disease Control opened an outbreak investigation into four cases at North East's Rockport ambulance facility.

Lincolnville Town Administrator David Kinney also heard about the North East Mobile staff COVID-19 outbreak from Lincolnville Fire Chief Don Fullington Jr. on Nov. 13. He hopes everyone gets well soon.

Kinney received an email from North East Mobile Health Services Chief Executive Officer Butch Russell that one staff member had tested positive on Nov. 11. North East immediately isolated the positive team member at home, and through contact tracing identified all exposed team members and placed them under quarantine, according to Russell.

However, due to staff being deemed "critical infrastructure workers vital to the continuation of essential functions," staff are permitted to continue working under CDC guidelines, according to the email. These guidelines include a negative Binax test before returning to work; that the worker remain asymptomatic; continued testing on seven-day intervals for a 14-day period; daily pre-work screening; twice daily temperature checks; and continued wearing of medical grade PPE.

By Nov. 13, three additional members of North East Mobile staff in Rockport tested by the CDC were positive, after receiving negative Binax tests and remaining asymptomatic, according to Russell's email. These staff were then isolated at home and contract tracing expanded, he wrote.

Farley received a call Nov. 13 in the afternoon from John Powers, division manager for North East's base in Rockport.

Farley let Powers know that two Camden firefighters had assisted two North East staff on an ambulance call on Bay View Street Nov. 11 for a person who was positive for COVID-19.

Powers said he would add the two Camden firefighters to a spreadsheet of those who might need to be included in contract tracing, according to Farley.

The Camden firefighters who responded to the call Nov. 11 were in full protective gear, wearing disposable Tyvek suits, N-95 masks and gloves. The two North East staff have tested negative for COVID-19, he said.

Farley said that as the Camden Fire Department is not currently in the emergency medical services business, they take their lead from Whytock regarding the type of PPE firefighters should wear, the protocols they should follow and also CDC guidelines.

He said he was concerned that the community has adequate EMS services at North East Mobile. Whytock was concerned enough to add additional staff during the past weekend.

Rockland EMS is called on to assist with 911-ambulance calls when North East Mobile is not available to respond. Camden has an understanding with Whytock, that if Rockland has to send staff to Camden, Camden sends staff on the call as well.

Camden Town Manager Audra Caler updated the Select Board Nov. 17 about the North East Mobile outbreak.

The North East Mobile Health Services team had responded to 1,690 calls as of Nov. 13 where exposure to COVID-19 was suspected or confirmed, according to Russell's email.

"Given that volume, our team understands that despite every best effort contraction is still very possible for frontline healthcare workers, especially as cases continue to spike in our service area, much of which has been designated yellow by the state," he said. "Their continued service is therefore not only a testament to their selflessness, but to their diligence in following safety protocols as these are our first positive tests of the pandemic."

North East's COVID exposure included their Rockport and Brunswick stations, Russell said. "We have 24 team members at our Rockport location. Not all were exposed, but we are requiring all to obtain PCR tests."

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Susan Mustapich | Nov 19, 2020 13:15

All four North East Mobile Health Services employees who tested positive for COVID-19 are isolated at home. Susan Mustapich, Assistant Editor.



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Nov 18, 2020 17:40

I guess it ain't " Rockland  by the Smell" when " Camden by the Sea" needs a hand.



Posted by: fred brown | Nov 18, 2020 17:12

Tell us the bottom line.

Are these employees at North East Health Mobile Services back to work or not?

I am referring to the explanation in the 7th paragrapgh in this article.

It starts with "However, due to staff being deemed".

I think the public would like to know.







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