Franklin County ambulance workers soon will be using times between emergency calls to educate community members in their homes about health and give preventative health care, as part of a statewide effort to reduce hospital and doctor visits for emergencies.

The NorthStar Ambulance house call program, which will start next month, is part of a state initiative to redefine paramedics and emergency medical technicians as not only emergency responders but also medical emergency preventers.

This pilot project will be one of nine in the state, with three more in formation, created under a 2012 law that lets emergency medical workers not only respond to emergencies but practice in a non-emergency setting.

Jay Bradshaw, director of Maine Emergency Medical Services, said his agency has been developing the project for the past decade to use the long waiting periods that rural emergency service workers sometimes sit through while waiting for a call.

“In some places they might get a call or two a day, but there still needs to be paramedics there 24 hours a day,” he said.

While many other states, including Alaska, Tennessee, and Minnesota, have successful similar programs, Bradshaw said Maine will be the first state to have not just individual paramedic projects, but a coordinated state effort.

NorthStar Director Michael Senecal said the ambulance service wanted to participate in the program because it values community service and prevention.

“We feel it works perfect into our mission of helping our communities and positive community activities,” he said. “It will be neat to see how this all turns out in a couple of years.”

Senecal said one of the service’s main goals under the project is to meet with people and help them understand their doctor’s instructions.

“A lot of times they don’t understand what their doctor meant at their last doctor visit, and they don’t speak up to clarify,” he said.

The workers also will help patients list and compare all the medicines they are taking and make sure the combination won’t cause unwanted reactions from mixing prescription drugs.

Also, the paramedics will offer other services such as checking vital signs, wound care, hypertension monitoring, diabetes management, ear and nose complaints, flu vaccinations and potential fall assessments. The proactive measures are supposed to decrease emergency room and doctor visits, ambulance transports and hospital admissions.

Primary-care doctors will refer patients to the program. Those patients generally will be people who are newly released from the hospital, have had a recent surgery, have multiple chronic conditions or live in a home where safety is a concern.

Senecal said they don’t expect the program to have many expenses other than travel costs, since they will be using on-duty workers during their down time. Expenses such as the cost of fuel will come from the service’s $6.1 million budget.

While they don’t know the cost of fuel yet, he expects long term that the cost will be offset by a healthier community with fewer emergency medicine needs.

Initially, 20 of the 77 NorthStar workers will participate in the program and get nine hours of initial training. Eventually, Senecal said, the service plans to have all employees participate.

Service officials won’t know their patient capacity or the program’s actual cost until after it goes into effect, he said, adding that they are already getting interest in the program.

“There’s a lot of good buzz about it,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]

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