BRINGING HEALTHCARE BACK HOME; CHANGES ON THE HORIZON FOR 911/EMS SERVICES IN WALTON COUNTY BEGINNING AUGUST 1ST
WALTON COUNTY, FLA – There are no wailing sirens or bright lights, but when Paramedic Ashley Dumont arrives for a home visit, she brings a shining smile with her med bag and stethoscope.
Walton County Fire Rescue is one of the first in the state to introduce a Community Paramedicine Program. The fire-rescue organization serves residents and visitors north of the Choctawhatchee Bay in Walton County.
Community Paramedics are trained, licensed paramedics who respond to certain pre-determined EMS calls for service to visit with patients and provide care.
Until this month, Dumont acted as the sole community paramedic before the program expanded adding another in Lindsey Timpano.
But a prescription for additional changes has been filled as the agency looks to change the response to 911 calls for medical services.
The Community Paramedicine Program provides a continuity of care for those seeking medical attention who previously relied on the emergency room for primary medical care. They would simply call 911 and get transported to a local hospital.
“A lot of people believe calling 911 is their only option,” said Timpano, who’s been with Walton County Fire Rescue since September of 2020. “With the Community Paramedicine Program, we are giving them another avenue to receive care and build better relationships with those patients – it’s more one-on-one.”
Between her and Dumont, the pair have more than 15 years of experience as paramedics in addition to their time serving as EMTs. The only difference is – now – they don’t arrive for house calls in an ambulance.
Dumont and Timpano can check vitals, catheters, and make fall risk recommendations. Often, the two refer patients who do not need transport to our new Telehealth service for their care needs.
“We have the ability to bring a doctor on an iPad into your home,” said Dumont.
The marker for success has been the reduced number of times these patients need to call 911. Through education and scheduled visits, the customer is receiving in-home care they had previously relied on in the ER.
“We are building rapport and seeing real change,” said Timpano. “Whether that’s locating medical equipment or giving the patients access to resources they didn’t know we’re out there – we are able to help them before they reach a point where they feel the need to call 911.”
CHANGES TO 911 RESPONSE – WHAT TO EXPECT
Previous to new changes, which are set to begin August 1st, the Community Paramedics relied solely on referrals from those working an ambulance on the road and doctors.
“If EMTs or Paramedics responding to a call by ambulance felt that patient would benefit from the community paramedicine program, they would request one go out and make a visit,” said Tim Turner, Assistant Fire Chief and EMS Chief for Walton County Fire Rescue. “Many times, when a person calls 911 the patient involved is not necessarily in need of ambulance transport but does need medical care.”
Now when residents or visitors call 911 for medical services, the information will be triaged by Walton County Sheriff’s Office communications professionals who will use a Tactical Dispatch Plan to determine whether a community paramedic should respond. The result is dispatching a community paramedic in place of an ambulance.
That can mean that an ambulance, rather than being tied up in transporting someone to a medical facility for a relatively minor reason, can remain available for more critical emergencies.
These changes will take effect at 8 am on August 1st, 2022.
“Before we implemented this program, it was an endless loop of patients not getting the true help they needed,” said Turner. “While we strive to serve the needs of all callers, some of these responses induce a large cost for patients who are transported and unintentionally tie up an ambulance.”
With the recent closure of Healthmark’s ER – the impact on the 911 system is even greater.
The announcement of the ER shutdown was accompanied by expressions of concern from Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, who told the Walton County Board of County Commissioners at the time the closure “will greatly affect transport times and the availability of ambulance services in the county.”
To mitigate some of the impacts, a seventh ambulance was added to the Walton County Fire Rescue fleet. However, Walton County Fire Rescue saw a steep incline in patient refusals and transport times – specifically in DeFuniak Springs – the area most at risk due to the Healthmark closure.
And the increase in patient refusals doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of the need for medical attention. In some cases, patients don’t have the means to get home from a hospital 45 minutes away.
“Not only did they have to figure out a way to get back home, but they had to endure the medical bills that follow,” said Turner. “Our program brings healthcare to people who would otherwise not have access to it without a hospital in our service area.”
BRINGING HEALTHCARE BACK HOME
As Dumont shares a laugh with a patient during a home visit the trust and bond between the two are evident in their interaction. Dumont carefully applies the blood pressure sleeve while they exchange stories about life, family, and health – the reason for the visit.
“It’s different than working on the road,” said Dumont, who started her career in 2015 before Walton County Fire Rescue joined Walton County Sheriff’s Office. “You get to spend time with your patients, it’s more personal.”
In one instance, Dumont recalls helping a family with a home health evaluation for placement into a home. The patient had advanced Alzheimer’s and it was not safe for her loved ones to drive her to a hospital to be evaluated. So, they did what a lot so often do – they called 911.
The community paramedicine program made it so that the family didn’t have to leave the comfort of their own home. They were able to get the evaluation completed and the patient was admitted to a home specializing in her condition.
“I want them to trust they are going to receive quality care,” said Dumont. “Whether that’s connecting them to a doctor or educating them on how to better manage their insulin.”
The care they need and deserve – with a smile.
Walton County Fire Rescue is a CAAS Accredited EMS Service providing pre-hospital care to residents and visitors of Walton County north of the Choctawhatchee Bay. WCFR joined the Walton County Sheriff’s Office in April of 2017.