NM mobile health unit catches film crew’s attention

Free Voice Media, a nonprofit documentary company, is working on a new project called Frequent Caller

By Sami Edge
Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, N.M. — A novel preventive medicine program of the Santa Fe Fire Department aimed at keeping frequent 911 callers out of the emergency room has caught the attention of a Montana film crew.

Free Voice Media, a nonprofit documentary company based in Bozeman, Mont., is working on a new project called Frequent Caller centered on the work of the city's Mobile Integrated Health Office.

Following a survey in 2014 that indicated about 3 percent of 911 callers were using 18 percent of the city's emergency response resources each year—including one man who averaged one ambulance ride every five days—the fire department developed the mobile health office in early 2016 in collaboration with the Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and the Southwest CARE Center. Through the service, paramedics and technicians visit the homes of the top 911 callers, most of whom have unaddressed chronic illnesses.

The goal was to reduce the burden on local emergency services while offering stability to patients who struggle with ongoing health problems, including drug addiction and mental health disorders. Members of the mobile health team conduct safety checks and help connect patients with primary care providers and mental health treatment.

Greg Cairns, director of the film company, said he became interested in the topic of emergency medical response after a friend told him how often EMTs encounter patients with mental illness and the homeless community. He began calling fire departments in the Mountain West region, looking for one to shadow.

The Santa Fe Fire Department was one of the few that gave him the green light, Cairns said. Officials also told him about the Mobile Integrated Health Office, an approach to helping people with some of the same issues his friend described.

So far, the Free Voice Media team has spent about six weeks in Santa Fe filming with the fire crew.

"Most of the weeks I've either spent laying in an ambulance or touring the streets looking for people who might fit the description of a MIHO client," Cairns said Friday. "I saw a lot of people who are trying to work really hard to help the city, and the people that live in the city, and have many different perspectives on what that means."

Cairns said the documentary might follow the stories of up to three of the mobile health team's clients and the paramedics who help identify the underlying issues that lead patients to dial 911 repeatedly.

"Mobile health care and community paramedicine is starting to stick nationally. It's recognized as a new direction that's very promising, but it's taking time," Cairns said. "One of the goals of the film is to speed up that process."

He expects the final product to be ready by the end of 2019. He's hoping to hold a screening of the film for members of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and to spread the word about the mobile integrated health model.

More information is available on the GoFundMe website: www.gofundme.com/frequent-caller-documentary.

Copyright 2018 Santa Fe New Mexican


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