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How IU Health and Bloomington public safety is responding to coronavirus



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Bloomington Police Department Chief Michael Diekhoff speaks with an attendee at the official unveiling of BPD’s new armored vehicle July 10, 2018, in the Switchyard Park Operations building. Monroe County Central Emergency Dispatch personnel will ask all 911 callers screening questions to determine if they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of the virus, according to a BPD press release. IDS file photo and Matt Begala

With the coronavirus pandemic growing by the day, first responders and medical professionals are coming in close contact with potential COVID-19 carriers. IU Health Bloomington Hospital, Bloomington Police Department, IU Police Department and Bloomington Fire Department have all developed protocol changes and precautionary measures to combat the spread of the virus.

IU Health Bloomington Hospital

The IU Health Bloomington Hospital has been steadily preparing for COVID-19, Emergency Services Director Katy Howe said. She said the hospital is converting rooms to house COVID-19 patients, and all patients within the emergency department are required to wear masks to limit any spread of disease.

All IU Health hospitals have suspended patient visitation with a few exceptions such as end-of-life situations and childbirth. The canopy entrance to the Bloomington hospital has also been closed, leaving the main level of the parking garage and the emergency department entrances as the only points of entry.

Howe said medical staff have gowns, goggles, face shields, N95 respirators and isolation masks available when needed. She said the hospital takes inventory each day to make sure they have the necessary supplies. 

IU Health emergency medical services and the fire department may respond to emergency situations in full protective equipment if the situation is unknown, Howe said. If the responders know what they are walking into, she said they will use their discretion to use the appropriate equipment.

“IU Health has done a great job of evolving each day,” Howe said. “We can provide the most up-to-date comprehensive care for these patients in our community.”

Howe said she recommends people use the free IU Health Virtual Visits app to address symptoms and be screened for the virus. The app is staffed by nurses, physicians and advanced practice providers. 

The app will connect people to a medical professional who will recommend the next steps and facilitate the appropriate care the person should take. Howe said this has been helpful to limit the number of people going to different offices for medical attention.

“We're trying to really reserve those visits for those patients that truly need to be here and to prevent the spread of the virus,” Howe said.

Howe said the app has screened over 10,000 people in Indiana since it was launched on March 8.

Bloomington Police Department

Monroe County Central Emergency Dispatch personnel will ask all 911 callers screening questions to determine if they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or have the symptoms, according to a BPD press release. Whether the caller may or may not have the virus will be relayed to the responding personnel. When an emergency is reported, dispatch will not ask those questions.

“If it is an emergency call, officers are responding just the same as they did before and will arrive as quickly as they safely can,” BPD Capt. Ryan Pedigo said in an email.

For reporting non-emergency situations, the caller can use BPD’s Online Reporting System or talk to an officer over the phone. If officers respond to a call in-person, the caller may be asked to meet the officer outside or in an open area.

Officers are prepared with N95 respirators, safety goggles and gloves if they respond to a symptomatic person.

“We balance our need to provide services and respond to public safety issues while protecting our personnel to the best of our ability,” Chief Michael Diekhoff said in a press release. “We must take steps to protect those who protect us during this time.”

The following services are suspended to limit exposure to BPD employees: notary public, fingerprinting, vehicle identification number checks and citation checks for equipment violations or updated license plates. Those requesting temporary beer and wine permits are asked to email BPD.

BPD is asking that anyone with questions or inquiring about a police service should call the non-emergency phone number instead of going to police headquarters.

IU Police Department

Deputy Chief Shannon Bunger said IUPD has limited public interaction by talking to people over the phone rather than in person. Like BPD, IUPD dispatch is also asking a series of questions to determine if callers may be sick.

Officers are currently being fit-tested for N95 respirators that they will carry along with gloves and shields. Squad cars also are wiped down multiple times a day.

No guests are allowed to enter the police department, and people spoken to as part of an investigation are kept in a limited part of the building. Any IUPD personne able to work from home are doing so.

Bunger said IUPD and BPD will help each other during this time. He said they already do so without a global pandemic, but will especially if multiple officers become sick or need to quarantine. 

“We are absolutely going to assist them, and they are going to assist us,” Bunger said. “We lean on each other for help all the time.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced an executive order Monday for all Indiana residents to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Bunger said IUPD are following everything the state of Indiana and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked them to do. 

“We really think that by keeping everybody in the house and keeping people from being out and about, we'll flatten the curve,” Bunger said.

Bloomington Fire Department

The BFD Facebook and Instagram account posted a photo of a member in a gown, gloves and protective mask. The BFD said personnel are taking extra precautions to keep themselves safe and it does not necessarily mean the person they are helping has COVID-19.

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