SMCAS seeks third wheelchair transport van

A previous publication of this article cited the wrong number of COVID-19 cases for Cass County. The Niles Daily Star regrets the error, and is happy to correct it. Van Buren County’s COVID-19 numbers have been added to the updated piece. 

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — Brian Scribner knows everyone is tired of hearing about COVID-19. He knows it is exhausting. As executive director of the Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service, he is a part of the front line addressing the pandemic.

Scribner is now looking at acquiring a third wheelchair transport van for SMCAS to use to accommodate an increase in calls for service. SMCAS already has two wheelchair vans that are in use for medical transports. The service is seeing a local increase in calls for transport to dialysis and other treatments for continuing complications following a recovery from COVID-19.

“We are all COVID exhausted, but now is not the time to stop,” Scribner said.

SMCAS has also been stocking up on personal protection equipment as the staff braces for the next wave of COVID-19 cases.

“There has been a definite increase in COVID-19 patients,” Scribner said.

Scribner said he noticed the increase even without checking the regional or national numbers. He knew just from the calls he and his staff have been responding to.

According to the Berrien County Health Department, as of Monday afternoon, Berrien County’s total confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases are up to 2,771, with 2,009 recovered, 80 COVID-19 deaths, and three COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit. The Van Buren/Cass County Health Department reported on Monday afternoon that Cass County had 898 positive cases of COVID-19, a total of 24 deaths, and 469 recovered. Van Buren County reported 968 positive cases of COVID-19, with a total of 16 deaths, with 639 recovered.

While the case numbers and deaths are notable to Scribner, he had noticed something else: an increase in need for transport for patients in renal failure.

“About 30 percent of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 will experience kidney complications,” Scribner said.

This is not the only continuing complication Scribner has noted.

“It’s a really broad range,” Scribner said. “We look at the death toll, but the reality is that [the virus] is hurting people with long term, chronic illness. How will that translate, volume wise? We don’t know yet.”

The vans are equipped with a special lift to help transport the increase in patients. The wheelchair transport vans include a Braun lift. The lift will handle chairs and patients up to 600 pounds. Each van costs around $42,000, about one third of the cost of an ambulance.

SMCAS serves eight municipalities, including five in Berrien County and three in Cass County.

Lynn Ferris has been all over the region, driving patients in the wheelchair transport van.

“We go local and have long drives,” Ferris said. “Longer destinations like Grand Rapids and Indianapolis. We take patients where ever they need to go.”

After each transport, Scribner said each van and ambulance is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and then treated with UV to eliminate anything leftover on the surfaces. The processes, along with acquiring PPE, are part of why he believes his crew has been able to continue staying healthy and strong.

“The crews are doing a really great job of following the protocols and protecting themselves,” Scribner said. “This is very real. It’s something that we are only going to get through if we work together to get through it.”

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