LENOIR — The Community Paramedic program seeks to help patients beyond ambulances and hospital walls.
During the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Monday, April 11, Emergency Services Chief Dino Dibernardi presented a review of the Community Paramedic (CP) program, which was established a few years ago and has operated mostly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CP program aims to provide outreach to patients at risk for using the emergency medical or in-patient healthcare system for primary care services, and helping them find more appropriate resources for their medical needs.
The three main focus areas of CP are: 1) to increase access to primary and preventative care, and provide wellness interventions and options in the pre-hospital setting; 2) to decrease emergency department (ED) usage, the re-admittance rate of ED patients, and ultimately save healthcare and taxpayer dollars; and 3) to decrease the misuse of emergency (9-1-1) resources, and most importantly, improve patient outcomes using emergency medical services (EMS) providers in an expanded role.
“ ‘Misuse of 9-1-1’ is a little bit of a misnomer,” said DiBernardi. “Many people call 9-1-1 because they don’t know what else to do, they don’t know who else to call, they don’t have anywhere to go … we can now do this in an expanded role without the burden being placed on the taxpayers.”
The program focuses on three major project goals: improving the patient experience, improving the health of the population, and reducing the per capita cost of healthcare.
Improving the patient experience requires providing a patient-centered response; integrating with healthcare services, public health services, and social services; integrating with other existing services and programs, such as Veterans Affairs, Senior Center, Yokefellow, LEOs, Council on Aging, and others; and addressing the needs and overall health of people and communities.
The main way to improve the health of the population is to fully integrate healthcare services, such as coordination with primary and specialty/focused care practices, as well as partnerships with the public health department and other public health services in the region.
“The main goal is to keep people out of the back of an ambulance and out of the hospital,” said DiBernardi.
Moreover, reducing the per capita cost of healthcare has allowed for providers to control costs through reducing misuse of 9-1-1, such as requests for non-urgent, non-transport services that are not reimbursable; reduced ED utilization; expanded primary care; encouraging healthcare home usage for complex patients; and increasing the overall community health through outreach and health education.
Looking ahead to the future, the Community Paramedic program has three main areas of focus. First, CP aims to end the stigma against mental and behavioral health and to expand the number of services for and access to mental, behavioral health, and substance use/abuse resources.
Caldwell County’s RESTART program, for instance, offers providers an expanded bank of resources and services to address the substance use disorders plaguing the region.
Second, CP aims to continue building on what the program has already accomplished, such as chronic disease education and monitoring; complete post hospital follow-up care; providing and connecting patients to primary care services; reducing 9-1-1 requests; providing medical education; and providing personalized, in-home care.
Third, CP wants to expand access to maternal and child health programs, which focus on health issues concerning women, children, and families. These programs focus on prenatal and well-child care, infant and maternal mortality prevention, maternal and child mental health, newborn screening, child immunizations, child nutrition, and services for children with special healthcare needs.
An investment in health, children, and families will work to strengthen the community and further reduce unnecessary healthcare costs.
“Touching lives means getting out into the community, and it can’t always be when you’re dialing 9-1-1,” DiBernardi said.