Paramedics will soon make house calls

The rush is a big part of paramedic Cindy McAlpin's job.

"Our time with the patient right now is very short," says McAlpin. "And it’s limited because then we have to be back in service to respond to other calls."

That leaves little time for her to address what she calls the "gap of health care." She's referring to uninsured or underinsured patients who may need to follow complex care plans after they are discharged from the hospital, but can't get the resources they need.

McAlpin says patients like this often end up back in the emergency room either to get routine treatment or because they failed to follow up with a care plan. She says she often sees people on the street or in their homes who have a need for services that aren't being filled.

"The elderly have a list of medicines they need to take and they are unable to get them filled or they’re just confused," McAlpin offers as an example. "Right now we’re called and we can’t spend time trying to help them fix that."

Until now.

McAlpin is back in school, training to become a community paramedic, who are tasked by physicians, physician's assistants or nurse practitioners to monitor certain patients with chronic health problems and to help them find resources to keep them on their care plan.

"What they’re trained in the classroom to look for are issues related to community health, issues related to public health types of problems, issues related to development of social skills and so on for proper interactions with patients in their home settings," says Dr. Mike Wilcox, medical director for the Community Paramedicine Program for MnSCU.

Minnesota is the first state to pass legislation authorizing community paramedicine as a new health care role. Hennepin Technical College is the first school in the state to offer a community paramedicine training course. Thursday afternoon, 13 students received their certification.  Another dozen, including McAlpin, are going through training now.

"If [patients] get referred to us after they’re discharged, then we can go to their home, spend some time with them, make sure their house is safe, that they have the food they need, that they’re able to make their appointments, set up transportation for their appointments," McAlpin said.

Once certified, community paramedics will spend one or two days out of their work week working with patients in this capacity. They will have their own response vehicles and equipment when they visit their designated patients.

Community paramedicine is not in practice yet. North Memorial says the newly certified community paramedics will begin work in late September or early October.

McAlpin says this will be a definite change of pace. Rather than working fast and working from patient to patient, this gives her time to step back, slow down and focus on how else she can help a patient.

"This does give us an opportunity to sit down with them," says McAlpin, "spend, you know an hour to an hour and a half with them and help them with what they might need help with."

Renee Banot

July 19, 2012


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