To reduce ambulance calls and emergency room visits, Manatee County Emergency Services intends to provide a preventive health care service for some of its frequent patients.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration awarded the county more than $340,000 in start-up costs for the new “community paramedic” program. The county hopes to also get local sponsors.
Selected paramedics will undergo training at Manatee Technical College. They will be assigned to residents who frequently call 911 and periodically conduct home visits to ensure the patients are following their physicians’ orders.
Potential patients are those who have used ambulances three times within 30 days and patients who frequently fall or have conditions such as diabetes, congestive heart failure and chronic respiratory conditions, and mental health and substance abuse issues.
“The whole idea is to make sure people are taking care of themselves” and not having to call 911, acting program manager James Crutchfield said.
EMS has experienced a 37 percent increase in 911 calls since 2008.
The county’s other partners in the effort include Manatee Memorial Hospital, Blake Medical Center, Centerstone (a mental health agency), MCR Health Services, Bradenton Urgent Care, the Florida Department of Health and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Community paramedicine programs exist in several states. The only other one in Florida that he is aware of is in Coral Springs, Crutchfield said.
“I think this is an amazing program,” Commissioner Betsy Benac said. She said it addresses “a real shortage” in health care and commended EMS administrators for suggesting it.
“I think it’s going to pay for itself,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said, noting the county has to frequently write off bad debts for its ambulance service.
Public Safety Director Bob Smith said home health agencies are not viewing the program as competition and are already referring patients for it.
The county intends to start the program June 1.
By Dale White