PROSSER -- With demand increasing in emergency rooms and the cost of providing care rising, hospitals and government agencies are looking for ways to reduce return trips by patients -- particularly those on Medicaid and Medicare.
PMH Medical Center in Prosser thinks it's hit on one solution with a new "community paramedics" program.
The program uses the trained paramedics already on staff at the hospital to make home visits to recently discharged patients who have been identified as needing some extra attention after being in the hospital, but who don't qualify for in-home care.
"We very frequently see what we call observation patients, people who come in with chest pain or shortness of breath -- someone we want to watch," PMH CEO Julie Petersen told the Herald. "Often the situation resolves but we're still concerned. An awful lot of the time they leave and we're concerned they won't follow up, and we're concerned they'll be back in 24 hours or a week."
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With the community paramedics program, funded by a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the federal Centers For Medicaid & Medicare Services, case managers will schedule appointments for paramedics to visit the patients at home and will brief the paramedics on any relevant medical issues -- the need to check blood pressure or do lab draws, for example.
The paramedics will talk to the patients and make sure they're doing OK -- and that they follow up with their primary care physicians.
The whole point is to get them into primary care to maintain their health and prevent further problems instead of getting sick again and ending up back in the emergency room, Petersen said.
"This is an extra element or extra resource to reduce ER utilization or re-admission, and to really serve the community," she said. "These people need to be seen, and we need to make sure they're getting back to their primary care docs."
The grant money comes from the Centers For Medicaid & Medicare Services' Health Care Innovation program, which supports programs designed to make health care more cost-effective and efficient.
When making the grant announcement, the federal program noted that "Community Paramedics" is estimated to save PMH more than $1.8 million during the three-year life of the grant.