Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

After seeing repeat patients using Macon County Emergency Services for routine doctor visits or hospital transports, the county’s EMS launched a program in 2015 called the Community Paramedic Program. The program was intended to help reduce the number of “frequent flyers” who were calling 911 for transports or routine doctor visits by having paramedics visit the patients in their home.

The Macon County Paramedic Program was recognized by the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services last week by being presented the Ewald B. Busse Award.

The Busse Award was established “to recognize an individual or organization that has had a significant impact on enhancing the health status of older North Carolinians through efforts to direct health-related policies and/or to provide leadership in developing innovative solutions to health care problems.” The award is named for Dr. Ewald W. Busse, who was president emeritus of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine and a founding director of the Duke University Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development.

Former Macon County Department of Social Services Director Shelia Jenkins nominated the Macon County EMS Community Paramedic program for the award.

“Mrs. Jenkins was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the Community Care Paramedic program since its inception in March 2015,” said Todd Doster. “Currently, five paramedics serve on the team. The program is led by Joseph Gibson, a paramedic with Macon County since 2003. The goal of the program is to assist patients in managing their chronic illnesses and to avoid the need for hospital visits. Currently, 62 patients receive services from the Community Care Paramedics. The successes of Macon’s Community Care Program will be highlighted at a National Emergency Medical Services conference being held in Charlotte on Friday, Feb. 23.”

When the program began in 2015 it was one of only four such programs across the state, and the only program west of McDowell County. It now serves on average 60 patients and has five paramedics who make weekly home visits, perform blood draws, manage medications, give flu shots and provide other procedures. When the program started it began with no extra funds, but later, various grants have helped the program expand.

“Because of the program there has been a reduction in hospital readmission, reduction to 911 response to high utilizers of the service, improved quality of life for recipients and reduction in transports for participants for both medical and behavioral health related issues,” said Edwards. “The Macon County community paramedic program plays a significant impact on the health of Macon County seniors through direct health related services and is a shining example of medical emergency services across the state.”

In 2017, the program conducted 1,917 “wellness” visits. In addition to enhancing the quality of life of the patients enrolled in the program by helping them manage their chronic medical conditions, the program also prevented an estimated 60 patient transports to the Emergency Department during this time.

The initial focus of the program was to reduce the number of hospital re-admissions. Community care paramedics continually work with local and regional hospitals and physicians to decrease readmissions for patients with diagnosis of congestive heart failure, heart attack, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sepsis, diabetes, and those with high fall risk. The community care paramedic will visit the patient within 48 hours of discharge to perform a wellness check. This program serves as a bridge from discharge until home health or other healthcare providers arrive.

Often many patients do not qualify for any services after being discharged. Community care paramedics fill that gap and continue with weekly visits to ensure that the patient is continuing to follow their care plan and assist the patient in their recovery from their illness or injury. The program’s design is to follow up to help reduce if not prevent 30-day readmission rates.

Community care paramedics have also proven a benefit by answering calls for public assists. This service is provided with community care paramedics responding to a specific call for a public assistance such as needing help into a vehicle, out of floor, and other non-injury assists.