Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.
An Anacortes man has a new wheelchair ramp at his home thanks to a new Anacortes Fire Department program and department firefighters.
“It’s something pretty simple, but it sure meant a lot to him,” Anacortes firefighter and paramedic Steve Monrad said of the ramp.
Under a program launched in July, Monrad is the department’s first community paramedic. His job is to be proactive with the medical needs of community members.
“The primary goal is to actually prevent 911 calls, to help work with patients,” said Anacortes Fire Chief Bill Harris.
The Anacortes Fire Department is the first in the county to have a community paramedic program up and running, Monrad said. It is based off programs in places such as Camano Island and Bellingham.
“This is just a new opportunity to help the community in a different way,” Monrad said.
The 18-month pilot program is designed to lower the number of 911 calls made by some of the system’s most frequent callers in order to conserve the department’s resources, Harris said.
In 2020, the Anacortes Fire Department responded to 3,156 calls for medical aid, Monrad said. During that time, 10 people accounted for 136 calls — about 4.3% of the calls.
One person called 33 times, Monrad said.
“The objective was to work with those folks to get those numbers down,” Monrad said. “Each time we’re able to reduce those 911 calls, it’s a savings, in cost of course, but it’s a savings in resources.”
For each of those calls, a firetruck, ambulance and sometimes a police officer would get called to the scene, Harris said.
“When maybe just a one-person team can do it,” he said.
That one-man team is Monrad, who has been a paramedic for about 25 years.
“I always felt like I was pretty good at what I did, and I was able to relate well with patients,” he said. “Maybe I was wired for it.”
Many of those targeted by the community paramedic program are aging, at risk of falling, or have complex medical issues. Some have mental health or substance abuse issues.
“Everybody fits into at least one of those categories when they enter my program,” Monrad said.
As the community paramedic, Monrad is able to more directly attend to the needs of individuals, whether it be helping them get their prescriptions, a walker or other medical equipment, or ensuring their living environment is safe and healthy.
“You have the luxury of spending more time with them,” he said. “You get to know the patients and you get to know the families.”
In many cases, Monrad’s job is not about medicine, but being a friendly, reliable face.
“They know that someone’s watching out for them,” he said.
In his position, Monrad works closely with Island Hospital, the Anacortes Family Center and the Anacortes Police Department.
His position is especially important in light of new state laws that impact the way law enforcement officers interact with those in crisis.
“Suddenly, fire and EMS, we have a whole lot of new work that law enforcement is no longer responding to,” Monrad said. “There was nothing put in place to replace it, so as fire and EMS we’re figuring out how to respond to it.”
Another responsibility Monrad has taken on in the first few months of the program came about because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At least three days a week, Monrad has been supporting Island Hospital’s COVID-19 effort through testing and vaccinations, he said.
Monrad is also working on plans with the hospital to provide follow-up treatment for those who have been discharged, he said, “with the goal of trying to reduce unnecessary admission and re-admission.”
In just a few months, Monrad has already seen the fruits of his labor. One frequent 911 caller, who has made 29 calls this year, has called only twice since the program began, he said.
Monrad is working with nine members of the community. Another seven no longer need his services.
Those community members aren’t the only ones who have benefited from the program.
“This has given (me) back way more than I could have imagined,” he said.
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