Yuma Fire Department (YFD) said Wednesday that its own first responders, along with those from Rural Metro, Somerton Cocopah and San Luis fire departments, have seen a rise in calls for emergency medical services for individuals suffering from cardiac arrest and other serious and/or life-threatening conditions at home, as well as calls for individuals who have died in their homes.

With such heavy emphasis on social distancing amid the ongoing COVID-19 dilemma, local first responders fear that individuals – particularly those considered “vulnerable” – are delaying or simply not calling for medical assistance when they need it, resulting in serious and sometimes even tragic consequences.

According to YFD, signs and symptoms of medical emergencies include chest pain, difficulty breathing, sudden and severe headaches, slurred speech, numbness and paralysis. If you are personally experiencing any of these indicators or seeing them in someone else, YFD urges: “Don’t be afraid to call for help.”

“Your first responders and other healthcare workers are here for you and taking all precautions to protect you and themselves,” YFD said in a press release. “Time lost can result in lives lost.”

According to YFD spokesperson Mike Erfert, the fire department received nearly 1,100 more calls for service in 2020 than the year before; about 500 of those calls were specifically for medical emergencies. An observable increase in DOA (dead on arrival) calls has also occurred.

“The chiefs of the different fire departments have been discussing that they’ve noticed more DOA-type calls,” Erfert said. “Last week, we had at least six DOA calls. Normally, it’s anywhere from zero to one or two; over the years, that would have been the average. Six is a lot. The concern among the chiefs is that people are not attending to getting the medical assistance that they’re in need of. One of those reasons could be that they’re concerned about exposing themselves (to COVID-19). We want to remind people to not neglect their health.”

While “social distancing” is the term used for the recommended 6-foot space between individuals who don’t share a household, there’s also a concern that its connotation is giving way to social disconnection and, as a result, isolation.

“The focus has been so much on social distancing that there’s a concern that some people – particularly those that are most vulnerable, like elderly folks that are living alone – are becoming so isolated they’re falling through the cracks,” Erfert said. “Social distancing is a phrase that’s been used and used throughout this year, but is that really what we want? We want people to stay physically distant, but socially connected; to not be isolated and living in fear.”

Individuals are encouraged to make a habit of checking on their friends, neighbors and loved ones, especially those who are elderly and living alone, as such check-ins can be an essential intervention in the event of a medical emergency. Those who may not be comfortable with an in-person house call can check in with a phone call, a text message or a video chat.

To identify any early indicators of a medical condition before it becomes an emergency, individuals are also encouraged to keep their appointments with their primary care physicians, practicing “proper protective measures” when they go.

“The potential is there, with as much focus as has been on social distancing, for people who don’t otherwise have a support system to become isolated and fall through the cracks,” Erfert said. “The consequences of inaction on medical emergencies are pretty obvious. When our personnel are responding to a welfare check for somebody that hasn’t been seen for a while, if maybe there had been some intervention sooner, it might have had a different outcome. It’s a time when we need to let our humanity show and be checking up on others who are in need.”

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