Paramedics director gives updates to county commission

Payette County Ambulance Director Rick Funk, right, addresses the Payette County Commissioners on Monday. Funk detailed his department’s strategy for COVID-19, noting present hospital capacity and staffing challenges weigh on the department’s response.

PAYETTE — Even with Payette County moving back into an ‘orange’ health alert level, health systems in the Western Treasure Valley are coping with an increase in COVID-19 cases. To give Payette County Commissioners an idea how local first responders are faring amid these cases, Payette County Ambulance Director Rick Funk met with the commissioners on Monday, Nov. 16 to give his monthly report, titled ‘Paramedic Matters.’

Funk, who took over for Michelle Giokas in August, told the commission he “hit the ground running in the middle of COVID.”

Following are samples of Funk’s remarks to the commission.

• Presently, five staff members are on quarantine for COVID-19.

“Luckily, Idaho state [Bureau of Emergency Medical Services] has been really good about helping us,” said Funk. “We haven’t been too bad off, but we’ve all been working anywhere from 70 to 80 hours a week to keep the ambulances running full-time.”

• One ambulance in the county’s fleet is dedicated solely to COVID-19 patients. This unit is equipped with plexiglass panels installed and a “fog machine” which is intended to decontaminate the ambulance.

“And hopefully kill all the virus,” said Funk.

• Ambulances are transporting fewer patients with COVID-19 out of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Fruitland to hospitals in the Boise metropolitan area. But this does not reflect present infection rates, as Payette County has a seven-day rolling average of confirmed and probable cases of 10.89 as of Nov. 16, according to Southwest District Health.

“I think part of that is because they’re not admitting as many of the COVID patients anymore, even though the numbers are up,” said Funk. “Hospitals are getting full again with the COVID.”

• His department was approved as of Monday morning by Emergency Manager Adam Gonzales and officials from Southwest District Health to begin rapid testing of staff for COVID-19.

“I emailed all of the department heads throughout the county so we can keep that … in-house, it’ll be rapid for our first responders so they don’t have to go wait at a clinic or anything.”

• Four new cardiac monitors have been purchased and are in service.

“That’s what the local hospitals use and all the flight service use, so now we match with everybody else … For instance, if they’ve got an EKG on and we show up, we can just hook ours up instead of changing everything out.”

• New medication pumps are being purchased, and a new ventilator was purchased just before the pandemic began.

Call volume was down in October, according to Funk.

Funk said he previously intended to attend commission meetings to give updates, saying that settling into his new role has taken up much of his time.

“I’m still trying to figure everything out as I go, and see where we are with everything and then I’m doing about five COVID meetings a week on top of that.”

Funk appointed Ryan Thayer as his Ambulance Deputy Director in September, with the approval of the Fruitland City Council.

“If something were to happen in the future, we don’t have someone coming into this position blind,” was Funk’s reason for the appointment. “We’ll have someone that can know where we’re at and follow up and step into it pretty easy.”

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