SANFORD, Fla. – The Sanford Fire Department has a solution for the growing problem of unnecessary 911 calls, building more fire stations, buying more emergency equipment, and still not helping people ultimately get better.
Firefighter paramedics of course treat every 911 call as an emergency, but not every call is an emergency, according to Sanford Medical & EMS Director Dr. Todd Husty.
“We know that a lot of our calls, not the majority, but a lot of our calls are people who just don’t know where to turn,” Husty said. “They didn’t get good care in their home and now they’re getting worse and they’re frightened or whatever and call 911.”
Husty said taking someone to the hospital if it’s not an emergency is often a lose-lose, for the patient and the taxpayer.
“Every time someone goes to the hospital it costs a lot of money,” Husty said. “Hospitals are not the greatest place to stay healthy. You’re stuck in a bed and there’s sick people around you and some people actually get sick when they’re in the hospital, and it’s very, very expensive. Extremely expensive.”
A 911 response can cost thousands of dollars in terms of labor, equipment and supplies that are already stretched thin.
At the fire station attached to Sanford’s police department on Historic Goldsboro Avenue, firefighters working 24-hour shifts are often called out as many as 15 times.
So Lt. Aaron Hinson figured out a way to reduce 911 calls and ease the stress on firefighters and the expensive equipment with which they’re required to respond.
It’s called Community Paramedicine.
“The crew will identify certain patients that they feel would benefit from intervention, depending on what their problems are,” Hinson said.
Hinson said four paramedics each pick up one overtime shift a week and spend it checking on people they’ve encountered who could use some extra care and who call 911 often.
“Community Paramedicine means that you take a good paramedic who knows his stuff and you get him out into the community into people’s houses and that’s where they can do some magic,” Husty said. “And that magic is taking care of people before they need to call 911. This is getting out there in the community and saying let’s do some good before they need to call 911.”
Instead of activating the ambulance, the community paramedics pull up in a pickup truck.
They’ll spend upwards of an hour with each patient seeing what they need.
“I just talk with them,” Hinson said. “A lot of times it’s just a sitting there listening and letting them get issues off their chests and their concerns. We’ll (use) an environmental survey to see if there’s issues, if it’s particularly messy, signs of medications that they’re not organized the way they should be.”
Hinson said patients who’ve fallen are of particular concern to him.
“We’ll make sure there’s not tripping hazards around the house, that they have grab bars around the house that they need,” Hinson said. “It’s not perfect but our measure of success is they are calling less. Are they better now able to take care of their problems?”
Hinson said his community paramedics have gotten results together by doing almost everything except driving someone to the hospital.
“We’ve helped people get equipment installed in their house, we’ve helped people get primary care physicians, we’ve helped people change physicians, I’ve gone to physicians’ offices and made them aware of the issues that we’re having with a patient and the doctors were unaware,” Hinson said. “Generally speaking, the end result is they have better care inside their own home. They don’t have to go to the hospital.”
Hinson said of the people who were calling 911 more than three times every couple of months, some many more than that, 50% are now calling only once every couple of months or not at all.
“It’s better than I ever would have guessed,” Husty said. “The results are phenomenal. And it’s little things, it’s people that don’t have a wheelchair ramp because they had surgery on their feet and can’t walk, they have to have a wheelchair but don’t have a wheelchair ramp and can’t get to their front door, so we built one.”
If you’d like a community paramedic to visit you, call Lt. Aaron Hinson at 407-893-1312, or Battalion Chief Shawn Treloar at 321-377-8936.
Seminole County also has a community paramedicine program. Click here for more information.