The Wiscasset Ambulance Service, with a combination of private and public funds, will buy a CPR device to protect its personnel from exposure to the coronavirus.
The Lund University Cardiac Assist System, known as the LUCAS device, is a mechanical chest compression device that requires fewer people to perform CPR, according to Wiscasset Ambulance Service Deputy Director Erin Bean.
For manual CPR, five people is ideal. With the LUCAS device, only three are necessary, Bean said.
The ambulance service currently uses a bag valve mask, a hand-held, manual device, to perform CPR.
“If we had (the LUCAS) device, it would make it so we wouldn’t have to worry about having extra people to do CPR,” Bean said.
Due to shortages of personal protective equipment amid the health crisis, the fewer people have to perform CPR, the better for ambulance personnel. The service currently has a shortage of personal protective equipment, especially N95 masks, Bean said.
“We don’t have the (personal protective equipment) to have six people on a call,” Bean said. “We try to make it so only one person is taking care of the person, to preserve the (personal protective equipment).”
The Wiscasset Ambulance Service serves Wiscasset, Dresden, and Westport Island.
Bean, citing the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the area is expected to see a surge in cases the week of April 13-17.
In December 2019, the LUCAS device was approved for use in the state of Maine. There are other mechanical CPR devices, but some lack state approval.
“Because (LUCAS devices) are very expensive, a lot of folks are figuring out how to work them into their budget,” Bean said.
“We call it deploying it when we use it,” Bean said. “It has a plate that goes underneath the patient, so we would have to lift the top of them a little bit to slide the plate underneath, and then there is a mechanical device that clips over the plate and it has a cup-type thing that comes down.
“It’s literally a piston. It goes up and down, up and down, at the rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.”
The device operates on battery power and can run for about three hours, Bean said.
The ambulance service raised $3,000 from local businesses to purchase the device. Wiscasset Ambulance Service Director Dennis Simmons requested $8,000 from the town to complete the purchase. The board of selectmen approved the request April 7. The funds will come from the town’s contingency account.
According to Bean, the device offers multiple benefits. It provides data that personnel can use in reports. For example, it will tell them when compressions began and ended.
With the device, patients can receive high-quality CPR even during emergency transport. “Our providers can stay buckled in and maintain safety in that form as well,” Bean said.
When they respond to calls that may involve exposure to the coronavirus, ambulance personnel wear masks, gowns, gloves, and eye protection.
The agency tries to send as few people into homes as possible, to limit exposure and reduce use of personal protective equipment.
Many Wiscasset Ambulance employees have responded to possible COVID-19 cases, some while working in other communities.
According to Bean, ambulance personnel are not always sure whether someone has COVID-19, although the Lincoln County Communications Center uses a code to tell them if a patient might be infected.
“We have to act like they have it, whether we know it or not,” Bean said.
Although the LUCAS device would help during the current public health crisis, Bean said it would be beneficial for Wiscasset Ambulance Service to have after the crisis too.
“It’s not once we are done with this coronavirus, we are just going to put it on the shelf and walk away,” she said.
“Especially during the day, we don’t have extra people that can come and help us if we had a cardiac arrest situation. This will make it much more effective for us,” Bean said.
The service will continue raising funds to pay the town back. “This was outside of our budget, so if anyone wants to donate, we can pay back the taxpayers,” she said.
To donate, call the Wiscasset Ambulance Service at 882-8204 or mail a check to the town office with Wiscasset EMS in the memo line.