Starting a Fall Prevention Program
After reading last month's column on fall prevention, EMT Diana Fralich wrote to tell me about her service's fall prevention program. Diana connected me with EMT James Weber, Wellness Coordinator for Manheim Township EMS, who was kind enough to tell me about fall prevention program development and his tips for other EMS services to start such programs. Part one describes the program need and its development. Part two includes specific tips on developing a fall prevention program.
The Manheim Township (Penn.) EMS program began in early 2009 when service administrators recognized that more than 10 percent of its 911 responses were fall related. The community, like many throughout the United States, has a large and growing demographic of citizens over 65 years old. In rural Lancaster County, nearly one-third of the citizens are over 65. As we all know, the risk of falling and/or resulting injuries from a fall can significantly decrease the quality of life for senior citizens.
Mr. Weber's work includes increasing EMS involvement in injury prevention and wellness. He has focused on improving public access defibrillation and initiating a comprehensive fall prevention program. Seven EMTs are trained to perform fall assessments. According to Mr. Weber, the staff has been eager to participate in the program because "they understand the potential for a significant impact by EMS on overall wellness improvements and injury prevention." Since February 2009, the cadre has completed just more than one hundred assessments. While it is too early to know the significance of those assessments, Mr. Weber has just completed a proposal to begin a research project analyzing the program's impact on the number and type of 911 calls in the study area.
Mr. Weber worked with local hospitals and long-term care facilities to design a fall risk assessment that did a weighted analysis of these factors:
• Gait balance and mobility
• Medical problems
• Pre-existing injuries
• In-home safety risks
Evaluators use the assessment results to explain to the patient and their family or caregivers the risk of falls, why they are at risk, and what can be done. Mr. Weber told me that "EMS explaining risks and action steps has a greater impact than hearing the same message from family members." Once the assessment is completed, Mr. Weber connects the patient with existing community services to make specific risk reductions.
Look to part two for tips on starting a fall prevention program in your community.