Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital and the Merrill Fire Department have launched a Community Paramedic pilot program designed to improve the health and wellness of people with chronic illnesses.
Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital serves a large rural and elderly community and cares for a significant number of patients diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia.
“While home health and skilled nursing services are an excellent option for home-bound patients, many with chronic illnesses do not meet the criteria to have such care covered under their health insurance plans,” said Robyn Schertz, M.D., medical director of emergency services at Ascension Good Samaritan. “Community Paramedicine is an emerging health profession that serves to close this gap by using existing providers such as paramedics in expanding roles.”
Referrals for the program will originate with patients from Ascension Good Samaritan’s inpatient unit whose primary discharge diagnosis is COPD, pneumonia or CHF.
“Patients agreeing to participate in the program will receive two home visits from community paramedics who will facilitate communication and outpatient follow-up with the patient’s primary care clinician,” said Merrill Fire Chief Dave Savone. “Aside from the goal of keeping patients with CHF, COPD, and pneumonia healthy and avoiding the need for hospital admission, the community paramedic program is also about improving the overall wellbeing of the communities we serve.”
The Community Paramedic program will also provide a safety net of resources for other important health issues.
Depression has been increasingly recognized to contribute to overall wellness and adherence to treatment plans; therefore, the community paramedic program will include depression screening with the goal to improve recognition and refer any mental health concerns to be addressed by the patient’s primary care clinician.
Nutritional disparity is also a concern within the community. Proper nutrition is important, especially with chronic illnesses such as CHF. To address this area of concern, each community paramedic visit will help to reinforce and educate the patient on their nutritional needs as well as to recommend referral to community services if concerns are discovered.
Finally, it has been widely recognized that ground level falls account for the most common cause of trauma, especially among the chronically ill or elderly populations. As a result, the community paramedic program will also offer home safety checks, a comprehensive review of the patient’s home and surrounding structures that will identify and offer suggestions to remediate trip or fall hazards before an accident happens.
Funding for this pilot program is provided by Ascension Good Samaritan’s Community Outreach Program as part of the hospitals commitment to measurable strategies to address identified community health needs.
“If demonstrated to be successful, the program will be expanded to include patients discharged back to our community from other area hospitals, and in the future, other health diagnoses as well,” said Schertz.
The Community Paramedic Program launched in Merrill on Dec. 1.