ARLINGTON – When it reaches the point where paramedics are on a first-name basis with the most frequent patients they transport for another in a series of unnecessary emergency room visits, home is where the help belongs.
Several months in the planning, North County Fire & EMS and the Arlington Fire Department have launched their Community Resource Paramedic Program to take an added approach to help residents manage their health, while reducing hospital visits to keep in-service medics available for higher priority responses.
They were among four agencies in Snohomish County awarded pilot programs through the North Sound Accountable Community of Health, an independent nonprofit collective working with the state’s Healthier Washington Initiative.
The local program aims to keep residents healthy at home, reduce the number of non-emergency 9-1-1 calls for low-acuity problems, lower health care costs for the community and reduce the burden on hospitals.
Some of the more frequent repeat calls come from patients living with obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular health, having limited access to primary care, or not knowing where to call other than 9-1-1.
North County Fire Chief John Cermak cited statistics that where high-utilizer patients are involved, it can take up to 11 trips to an emergency room before they get to the person or social services agency able to help meet their need.
“With having the CRP program, we want to reduce that to the first time,” Cermak said. “It’s a new service that has proven to improve patient care and connect patients to the services they truly need.”
The Community Resource Paramedic program will bridge the gap between the patients firefighters see regularly and the community services that already exist to help meet their needs, he said.
He shared the example of an elderly woman being admitted to a hospital several times for injuries from repeated falls, when a visit to her home revealed that having volunteers install a ramp outside her house would have prevented the mishaps.
“We can prevent unnecessary hospitalization, which in the overall scope, is good for the hospital system, it’s good to keep people in their homes and their comfort zones,” he said. The program “checks a whole bunch of boxes.”
Through a contract with the city, North County Fire & EMS will provide the service to the area both agencies serve including Stanwood, Arlington, Warm Beach, Freeborn, the Stillaguamish Tribe and up to the Skagit County line.
Firefighters from Arlington and North County Fire can use the Community Resource Paramedic service to keep paramedic units available for higher risk emergency responses and promote emergency department diversion.
For both agencies, over 70% of call volumes are related to EMS services, involving multiple first responders on a call.
The program is designed to work with people released from hospitals to keep them from needing a return trip, connect residents with the more than 50 social service agencies that can provide medical and non-medical assistance, remove barriers to health care services and assist our law enforcement embedded social worker teams.
Community Resource Paramedic programs are typically less costly and more effective in meeting the true needs of patients that make multiple calls to 911 for services or multiple trips to the emergency room for non-emergency health care needs.
Arlington budgeted up to $30,000 in 2019 and 2020 for the program.
Arlington Fire Chief Dave Kraski said community paramedic programs have reduced emergency service costs for taxpayers in other nearby communities.
“We are optimistic that the program will have the same results here,” he said.
Darin Reid was appointed to the position of Community Resource Paramedic last February by North County Fire & EMS.
Reid has 33 years of experience in the fire service, primarily in Clark, Island and Snohomish counties.
His last position before joining North County Fire & EMS was as a shift Battalion Chief for North Tucson’s Mountain Vista Fire District. He previously served Federal Contractor in Afghanistan for the U.S. State Department and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as a clinical and tactical paramedic and a Chief Fire Officer for the Stanwood-Camano Fire Departments, where he designed and implemented their Medic One Program.
Reid also served on the Snohomish County EMS Council and on the Executive Board for the North Region’s EMS Trauma and Casualty Care Council.
He has a bachelor’s degree in Fire Administration from Eastern Oregon University and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy, Executive Fire Officer Program with an Outstanding Achievement award.
He is accredited as a Chief Fire Officer and Chief Emergency Medical Services Officer through the Center for Public Safety Excellence.