Fire Department to introduce community health program
Burleson Fire Department EMS Chief Casey Davis realized his department had a problem. EMS technicians and firefighters were getting a lot of 911 calls for health problems, often causing one of the departments three firetrucks to respond to a call where a firetruck was not necessarily needed.
Davis knew he needed to alleviate the number of calls for assistance with chronic health problems and looked to MedStar, a leader in mobile healthcare, for help. Enter the community paramedic program.
Paramedics on this team will be solely tasked with checking in on patients referred to the program to ensure that their health is good and they don’t make repetitive 911 calls and visit the emergency room multiple times. The program should be up and running by Sept. 1 and will employ four paramedics - one team per shift - and will be paired with a regular firefighter.
“We only have three firetrucks that can make calls and those resources run out quickly, should a big emergency arise,” Davis said. “Each individual refereed will be in the program for 30 to 90 days. Long enough to learn about their specific disease and manage that disease with medication and doctors visits.”
The goal is to help make patients more aware of how to handle their diseases.
“They can take the tools we teach them and continue on,” Davis said. “If they have trouble, they can give us a call and we will be there for them. We want to empower them and teach and guide them.”
Some of the tasks that community paramedics will perform are checking to ensure a patient is taking their medication properly, make sure they aren’t running out of a medication, and do simple health checks like blood pressure and blood sugar monitoring.
“Our healthcare system is broken,” Davis said. “EMS is a safety net for our healthcare system. Instead of being reactive we want to be more proactive and be on the preventative side of things. This gives us an opportunity to identify people in our community that either don’t have the social structure around them to take good care of themselves or they have advanced disease processes that are difficult to manage.”
Those diseases that Davis sees the most are diabetes, congestive heart failure, and breathing problems. These diseases can be difficult to manage on a long-term basis.
These calls tax not only the fire department but also the hospitals and emergency room services. If a patient heads to the ER for something that could have been managed at home, it can increase the amount of time another patient spends waiting to see a doctor for a more serious illness or injury.
“If we got with them at 2 p.m. in the afternoon and we notice that they are getting fluid overloaded, we can call the doctor and get an order to give them some medication or an IV that prevents them from calling 911 at 2 a.m. and going to the ER,” Davis said.
Davis said in recent years EMS has taken a new turn and is now performing duties that techs hadn’t previously done. He also reported that a lot of patients don’t know about all of the healthcare programs available to them.
“We see how much value the prevention side of this will bring,” he said. “We can help them get acquainted with a better solution to their situation other than going to the ER.”
The program wouldn’t be possible without the help of MedStar, who has been operating their own mobile healthcare program since 2009 and is helping the department get their own program started. MedStar has enrolled 141 Burleson-era residents in their own program since 2013 and added another 24 patients to the program in June.
“This provides another enhancement to our community,” Davis said.
Fire Chief K.T. Freeman also sees value in the program and was very encouraging of the project from the start.
“Our goal is to improve the quality of life for people in our community,” Freeman said. “We are still going to have a plethora of situations that we will always respond to, but we want to be proactive rather than reactive.”
A patient is signed up after a recent hospital or doctors visit. Patients can also be signed up if repetitive 911 calls for EMS visits have been made from the residence.
“This is a very proven system that local hospitals have all approved of and there are doctors working with us as well,” Davis said. “We help bridge the gap.”
Davis hopes in the future to collaborate with Meals on Wheels and other community programs to help identify other residents who would benefit from this program.