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Community Paramedicine Program Explained at Wyoming Conference

CHEYENNE – The term emergency medical services worker conjures up images of professionals who help people during emergencies.

A relatively new program called community paramedicine expands the role of EMS professionals, Andy Gienapp said. He is manager of Emergency Medical Services for the Wyoming Department of Health.

Paramedics and EMTs who work in community paramedicine provide care that helps fill gaps in health-care services.

The concept of community paramedicine will be discussed from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. next Thursday during a meeting at Cheyenne’s Little America Hotel and Resort.

The Wyoming Department of Health will sponsor the meeting, which is open to the public.

Gienapp hopes area doctors, leaders from public health agencies, elected positions, state Medicaid officials, and those from community and civic groups will attend.

There are about 200 communities across the country that have such paramedic programs in place, said Gary Wingrove, president of The Paramedic Foundation in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

People who live in areas that use community paramedics must first identify gaps in their health-care system and decide how to fill them.

The community paramedic program connects underutilized resources like EMS with services where access to doctors, clinics and hospitals is limited.

Paramedics in the program can drive to a patient’s home, rather than having the patient go to a hospital emergency department. They can draw a patient’s blood, take care of their wounds and administer medications.

These paramedics might also help public health nurses give flu shots, or go to a patient’s home and provide care after he or she has been discharged from the hospital.

Community paramedics provide other nonemergency care for patients like walking with them and bathing them.

And when an emergency call comes in, the paramedics respond to it first.

The Western Eagle County Ambulance District in Eagle, Colorado, has operated a community paramedic program since 2011. It provides access to health care for vulnerable populations.

Community paramedic Kevin Creek of the Eagle system said the program also has saved health-care dollars.

Taking care of patients at their homes, for example, can reduce hospital admissions, he said.

The work of a community paramedic also can help keep people in their homes instead of going to nursing homes, he said.

These programs never compete with existing health services, Wingrove said. If a community has a home health provider, for example, the program will not duplicate it, he said.

The work of paramedics in the program does not exceed their scope of skills, said Kevin McGinnis, community paramedicine director for the National Association of State EMS Officials.

Wyoming has vast distances between towns and many towns that don’t have medical clinics. A community paramedic can visit several patients who live along remote stretches, according to Wingrove. They otherwise may not have been seen.

Wingrove has high hopes for community paramedicine if it starts in Wyoming.

“I think Wyoming could become one of the shining stars of the country with this type of program,” he said.