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Community paramedic program helps patients physically and mentally

The two-year pilot program focuses on patients diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure


By Irma Widjojo
Times-Herald

VALLEJO, Calif. — Paramedic Elisa Martinez said she is usually always in "emergency mode" at work.

However, lately things have been a little different.

Martinez is one of the six paramedics at Medic Ambulance that have been trained as community paramedics.

The new state-wide pilot program launched in Solano County mid-September.

The Medic Ambulance’s Community Paramedicine Program is a collaborative effort with NorthBay Healthcare, and is sponsored by California Emergency Medical Services Authority and California Healthcare Foundation. It is one out of 12 such programs throughout California.

The two-year pilot program focuses on patients diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure that have been treated at NorthBay Medical Center.

"The goal is to keep the patients of the hospital and not get readmitted for those reasons," said James Pierson, Medic Ambulance vice president of operations.

The patients that are eligible for the program are identified by NorthBay Medical Center staff by a scoring tool. These patients are usually elderly and need additional help, but don’t qualify for home care assistance.

The community paramedics’ duties include making two to four home visits within 30 days, and help them with anything they may need to keep themselves healthy. The services they provide vary from help with medication, explaining nutritions, to arranging insurance and other resources the patients need.

"We really had to retrain ourselves to think differently," Martinez said.

As a start, the community paramedics can spend hours with a patient on their first visit, unlike an emergency call.

"You really get to know them on a different level," Martinez said. "I really believe that part of what makes them feel better is the personal touch. They get better mentally, and physically."

The program is free to the patients and is optional.

On Tuesday, Martinez visited Maria DeJong in her Vacaville home.

DeJong, 72, had been hospitalized at least three times in the past two years for congestive heart failure.

During her last visit this year, the hospital staff at NorthBay Medical Center identified her as a patient that could benefit from the pilot program.

Martinez has helped her with explaining her medications, and even leaving behind a scale and blood pressure monitor so that DeJong could keep track of her stats.

"She’s been the most wonderful person," DeJong said of Martinez. "It’s been a very good experience. She explained everything so I could understand."

A Vallejo man was also enrolled in the program after he had to undergo an emergency heart surgery.

Randy Snider, 61, said through his community paramedic he’s been able to understand his disease better.

"I wish them a lot of luck," Snider said. "There’s a lot of people out there who need this, especially those without insurance."

Since its launch in September, the community paramedics have seen 16 patients and made 35 visits. The goal is to see 300 patients within the two years, Pierson said.

The community paramedics received additional training and have at least eight years of experience.

"I think it’s clear that as an integrated health care system we need to be more creative and proactive," said Shelley Stelzner, NorthBay Healthcare director of case management. "We want to prevent these patients from getting worse."

Martinez said the experience has been fulfilling.

"You rarely get to spend more than 45 minutes with a patient on emergency calls," she said. "As a community paramedic you get to be more personal with them."

And the same seems to be true for the patients.

As Martinez was saying goodbye to DeJong at the end of her visit, the Vacaville woman called her back.

"Can I have another hug please?" she asked.

(c)2015 Times-Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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