When coronavirus hit, Shepherd paramedic met vital needs on front lines of pandemic

Shane Hardwick was already on the front lines, meeting neighbors’ health needs on Indianapolis’ near east side, when news broke this winter about a deadly new disease ravaging Wuhan, China.

By early March, the news was even more grim, and much closer to home. The coronavirus, then on the verge of being declared a pandemic, had emerged as an imminent threat to Indianapolis.

On March 2, Hardwick, a paramedic based at and financially supported by Shepherd Community Center, met with Shepherd’s leadership team, including Executive Director Jay Height and Assistant Director Andrew Green, to discuss preparations for this new and daunting emergency.

“The issues still seemed pretty far off, but the news out of China wasn’t promising,” Hardwick says three hard and exhausting months later. “The reality of a global pandemic soon became apparent and we started gearing up for what appeared to be uncharted territory.”

Shepherd’s executive team approved Hardwick’s request for supplies, including thermometers, finger box probes used to measure patients’ oxygen levels, weight scales used to monitor heart patients’ water retention, and Tylenol used to manage patients’ fever and other symptoms.

One critical strategy that Marion County health officials deployed was to instruct medical providers to do all they could to keep patients in their homes and out of emergency rooms, where the risk of contracting the virus would be much higher.

From Hardwick’s perspective as a paramedic, he and others who visited patients in their homes filled a critical role in making that strategy a success.

“An EMT, another paramedic and I handled most of Marion County through the first months of this pandemic,” Hardwick says. “No other public safety agency in Indianapolis has a model that provides follow up with citizens, so we can safely say that we have been handling all of the follow-ups in the city so far. We found that the lion’s share of the work we did during this event kept us on the near east side. To illustrate the success of our program, of the more than 160 patients we encountered during the two-week peak period, only one patient’s symptoms became worse and required transport (to a hospital), and none of the patients that we had encountered had to call 911 for illness after our visit.”

In addition, Shepherd took the lead in helping individuals on the east side whose health conditions made it dangerous or not physically possible for them to leave their homes to buy groceries or have other essential needs met. Shepherd became a lifeline for food, medicine, and other basic supplies for those neighbors as well as for hundreds of families as job losses mounted in the city.

In response to the pandemic, the city opened temporary shelters at the State Fairgrounds and Washington Park for people experiencing homelessness. Hardwick provided care at both locations, meeting a range of needs.

“We have encountered everything from allergic reactions to leukemia,” he says. “We started picking up prescribed medicines from the pharmacies. These scripts were coming from the ERs or our EMS docs prescribing meds for minor ailments. We also started connecting patients with primary care doctors. The medicines we picked up and the Ubers we sent patients to doctor’s appointments in were all paid for by Shepherd Community Center.”

As the worst of the pandemic begins to wane and Indiana and the city reopen, there’s an understandable tendency to let down – to believe that the crisis has passed. But Hardwick notes that now is the time to prepare for what many experts forecast will be a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the fall.

“We have the summer to restock supplies and do an (After Action Review) of the events that took place this spring,” he says.

And he points out that neighbors’ needs are greater than ever as the economic and health consequences of the pandemic continue to reverberate.

“From a social need, my hope is that Shepherd finds continued ways to stay engaged with their families,” Hardwick says. “We are getting a front-row seat to some of the downstream effects of social distancing and the uncertainty of our job market. Anecdotally, there seems to be a rise in suicides, domestic violence, and self-medication. Shepherd has been a beacon in the neighborhood for a long time. We need to maintain that sense of calm, love, and support for the families that we serve. How we do that from six feet away is going to be the challenge — but certainly not impossible.”

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