When Cataldo Ambulance company became the first in the state last year to become licensed for a mobile integrated health unit – something they dub SmartCare – they could have never imagined the unit would be called on for critical services during the COVID-19 surge, and now potentially to be a major distribution point for any COVID-19 vaccine.
That is just the case for the company’s units, which services Chelsea and surrounding areas, as they have received word that they will be part of the distribution network for a vaccine when it arrives – not only for the general public, but also for vulnerable populations.
“We’re getting inquiries already from local health departments,” said Dan Hoffenberg, vice president of Cataldo. “I don’t have all the details yet, but I’m told we’re getting inquiries from local health departments asking about if we can be of service in helping to distribute the vaccine in each community. We’re going to be a way for them to help administer the vaccine…When the vaccine rolls out to the general public, that’s still being worked out.”
President Dennis Cataldo said paramedics are being considered as a key part of that roll out, just as Gov. Charlie Baker put in the state’s first order for the Pfizer vaccine last Friday. With the ability to be mobile on the SmartCare unit, it makes their team even more valuable.
“There is a lot of discussion right now about the roll out, but we’d certainly be able to help with the distribution,” he said. “Certainly paramedics are a population that are being considered and would be available to do the COVID-19 vaccinations.”
SmartCare, however, has already proven its worth during COVID-19 and has gotten high praise from physicians, particularly in Emergency Department settings. Right now, they are deployed to do testing in communities around the area. Prior to that, SmartCare worked in its traditional role to take medicine to patients. Using remote technology, paramedics were able to interact with patients at their home and with a physician online to provide monitoring and care. Though they began that service in the summer of 2019, it became well-positioned to really help in COVID-19 as it allowed vulnerable patients to get in-person care without having to travel to a hospital and be exposed to the virus.
“SmartCare really was a service to fill in the gaps in patient care that utilized the skill set of a paramedic and adjust slightly to the role of a paramedic and be a home care provider,” said Cataldo. “When it came to COVID-19, it became useful for several patients to be able to get care and not have to travel to the Emergency Room if not necessary.”
SmartCare units are able to visit the home, do an assessment of the patient, and then bring the physician in online. There, the physician can consult with the patient and the paramedic and provide services quickly. In the past, that could have been a very long series of events – making an appointment, coming to the hospital two weeks later and then getting a resolution.
Hoffenberg said they have increased their calls by 500 percent a month since starting last year, and some of their customers now include the largest medical institutions in the United States.
“They’re starting to recognize the depth of care we can provide for patients and contribute to their overall health,” he said. “With little marketing and notoriety, we’ve grown quite a bit.”
Now, after having proven so valuable in COVID and now becoming a key testing service, they are poised to be a key participant in what could be an historic delivery of medicine to the public.
“I think it will be a small runway where there is a little hesitancy for some to accept the vaccine as being safe and reliable for everyone,” said Cataldo. “There are certain populations where the benefit far outweighs the concerns…I think everyone would agree all eyes are on this thing.”