Community and campus healthcare has become a mainstream issue as the country and the University have worked to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. But for members of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps, the physical health of the Brandeis community has always been at the forefront of their minds. BEMCo, the University’s emergency medical service, is run entirely by student volunteers, all of whom are fully-trained emergency medical technicians. Despite all of the changes that have been made on campus since the pandemic first started and the challenges that have come with it, BEMCo has continued to respond to emergency calls and provide medical care on the Brandeis campus. Since students first returned to campus this fall, BEMCo has operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the academic year, just as they had been doing before the pandemic began. In order to continue providing this vital service to the Brandeis community during the pandemic, the group has had to find ways to adapt. 

“It [has] become more interesting,” said Zoe Brodsky ’21, the executive director of BEMCo and one of the field supervisors. “We’ve had to adapt in some ways, but it is tricky because … emergency medicine is hands-on.” Despite the inherent challenges of providing care as a first responder during a pandemic, BEMCo has been able to successfully adapt by implementing new protocols and strategies. “We’ve been very fortunate that we can easily modify to accommodate the COVID guidelines that the school goes by,” Brodsky said. 

In the past year, protective-wear that helps reduce disease transmission, such as masks and gloves, have become a part of everyday life for all of us. For BEMCo, proper personal protective equipment has made it possible for them to continue to safely provide hands-on medical care in the midst of a viral pandemic. “We have all the proper PPE … which includes goggles, N95s, gowns, gloves. So, all our members are prepared and we had new protocols set in place to wear the correct PPE on every single call,” Brodsky explained. Constant access to protective equipment is vital for first responders, especially since social distancing is often not possible when providing emergency medical care. While BEMCo crew members do what they can to stay socially distanced while responding to emergency calls, “when the time comes you really need to be hands-on,” Brodsky said. “We can't have anything prohibiting our jobs as first responders.” 

Although BEMCo is now fully staffed, the unexpected campus shutdown that occurred last spring created some challenges when the group resumed operations at the start of the following fall semester. “We have a promotions process that was cut short,” explained Lydia Sawyer ’21, a BEMCo training officer as well as a field supervisor. “It meant that we were understaffed at the beginning of last semester, which meant definitely a lot more on-call time for [the supervisors] and then the first couple of people who were promoted to senior positions.” Fortunately, BEMCo was able to fill all of the necessary positions during the fall semester, so the amount of time that members spend on-call has returned to normal. However, Brodsky explained that for BEMCo’s executive board, “we do more planning on how we're going to run stuff … planning trainings, planning how we run the whole thing. … That’s what takes up the most amount of time.”

Much of this planning went into figuring out how to train new members and hold continuing education training for current crew members. Group trainings are now held on Zoom, which has “required some creativity,” according to Sawyer. Brodsky added, “Especially with bringing on new people, we adapted very well with the Zoom meetings.” Certain skills that new members must demonstrate before starting on BEMCo, such as obtaining a patient’s vital signs, require in-person training. In order to make this process as COVID-safe as possible, BEMCo leadership had to come up with new methods and strategies. “We made videos for [the new members] and when their first shift came around, the supervisors …  [sat] down with that person to make sure that they [could] properly get the vitals that we need,” Brodsky explained.

Both Sawyer and Brodsky commended the University's response to COVID-19 and spoke positively about how the school has supported BEMCo through the many changes and challenges that the pandemic has brought. “I think BEMCo gained a really good sense of community within our core and I hope … within Brandeis’ community," Brodsky said, adding, "Although a pandemic was happening and everything was kind of up in the air ... BEMCo [was] still there for the students and the faculty and the staff who needed us, and that's super important to us.” Brodsky said she hopes that BEMCo will continue to build an even stronger sense of trust within the Brandeis community, even after the pandemic has ended. “We're here to serve the community … to be there for students, faculty, staff. … We’re still here.”