‘Community Paramedicine’ saves millions of dollars in Sanford

The Seminole County seat now gets more than 12,000 calls to 911 per year

SANFORD, Fla. – More fire departments are cutting down on unnecessary 911 calls and trips to the hospital, and instead making patients healthier so they don’t call 911, or call 911 again and again. Taxpayers win. But the patient wins the most.

In Central Florida, it all started in Sanford two years ago. The Seminole County seat now gets more than 12,000 calls to 911 per year.

Since a Sanford Fire Department lieutenant first experimented with “Community Paramedicine,” it has spread to the rest of the county and across Central Florida – and Lt. Aaron Hinson estimates it has saved Sanford citizens millions of dollars.

A 911 call always brings immediate help, but not necessarily long term help.

A typical emergency response starts with firetrucks or ambulances, medical supplies and expensive equipment and it often ends with a patient going to the hospital because at that point there’s no other option for the paramedic or the patient.

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“Instead of going to their primary care physician for their copay, they’re getting a $3,000 or $4,000 bill from the ER to handle the exact same problem that could be handled by the primary care physician,” Hinson said.

Lt. Hinson said it’s happening more and more, especially in Sanford, because the city, like so much of Central Florida, is growing quickly. Sanford is building a new fire station near the airport and hiring 13 more firefighters to staff the station.

“Instead of five minutes, it’s taking us sometimes eight to ten minutes to get to some of those areas out there when someone calls 911 and that’s far too long depending on their circumstances,” Hinson said. “So the only answer is build more fire stations. And get something out there in close proximity because there’s no fast way, we can only drive so fast. We hired 13 people for the station who hopefully will be going up in about a year or so.”

How much does all of that cost?

“Millions,” Hinson said. “Yeah it’s an estimate, but you got to pay for the land, you got to pay for the building, you got to pay for the folks coming in and their starting salaries, times 13, times their benefits, all that type of stuff. It’s a big investment.”

So for the past two years, Hinson has been doing it differently in Sanford. He convinced his chief to let him try something called “Community Paramedicine.”

In between 911 calls, he and three other community paramedics offer assistance to the repeat 911 callers, some who call upwards of 10 times a month.

They pull up to a patient who accepts Community Paramedicine in a pickup, instead of activating the ambulance.

“So right now we’re focusing on fall patients, especially in the elderly,” Hinson said. “Anybody we pick off the ground we try and go and see those patients and try and see if they were trip hazards, do they have the equipment, what do they need, are they getting physical therapy they need.”

The four community paramedics each take one overtime shift per week and then visit the frequent fallers and frequent callers, spending at least an hour with them to bring long term help.

“That way they learn the system, they learn their health, they learn how to set up a doctor and appointments, and now they can do these things much better on their own,” Hinson said. “About half of those that allow us to help them have taken that next step and yes are doing that.”

Hinson said the community paramedics also focus on those who are diabetic and newly diabetic who call 911 repeatedly.

“We’re going to help you, we’re going to fix this problem, but next time we’re looking at would you like us to send someone out and try to help you with this, and try and get you on the right path,” Hinson said. “Because not only does that save costs and everything else but now their health is getting better and their quality of life is getting better and that’s really the goal what we’re looking for here.”

Hinson said the Sanford Fire Department has been able to keep its success rate going. Of the people who called 911 more than three times a month, through Community Paramedicine, the Sanford FD continues to maintain half of them calling only once a month or not at all.

Hinson said if you think you would benefit from Community Paramedicine, email him at Aaron.Hinson@sanfordfl.Gov or call him at 407-893-1312. He said you can call anytime and he will help anytime, 24/7.

The Seminole County Fire Department is Sanford’s partner in Community Paramedicine because Seminole FD is also Sanford FD’s partner in responding to 911 calls.

The two agencies have a “Mutual Aid” agreement which means whichever agency is closest to a call responds first. They have the same agreement in place for someone who could benefit from Community Paramedicine. The responding agency will usually follow up with that 911 caller to see if they would be interested in Community Paramedicine.

Contact Seminole County FD’s Community Paramedicine program here.

Seminole FD said paramedics visited 1,912 homes last year and currently have 150 residents enrolled in Community Paramedicine.

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.