Partnership Between Ala. Agency, Social Work Students Benefits MIH-CP Program

Partnership Between Ala. Agency, Social Work Students Benefits MIH-CP Program

By Lucas Wimmer Apr 22, 2016

In Tuscaloosa, AL, multiple organizations are coming together for a new program that provides mutual benefit for EMS/fire personnel, social work students and patients.

The program pairs three students in the process of obtaining a Master’s degree in social work at the University of Alabama with Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue to assist with its EMS Prevention program.

The EMS Prevention program aims to help prevent superutilizers from needing to call 9-1-1, says EMS Prevention Coordinator Brett Garrett.

The students started working with the organization in January. One of their main jobs is connecting Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue with other organizations in the area that can help provide services to high-volume 9-1-1 users, Deputy Chief Chris Williamson says.

The students schedule meetings with organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Catholic Social Services to discuss what it takes for someone to qualify for their services. They then put together a directory of these services for Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue to more easily determine which organizations they can use when a patient needs help.

Williamson says the students have also been getting hands-on experience by going on patient visits with paramedics to help develop proposals for how best to help those patients.

EMS Chief Chris Holloway says they spotted a need for some sort of social work partnership nearly two years ago when the EMS Prevention program started.

“We were finding out some of these patients couldn’t afford their medicine or couldn’t afford food, some of them needed wheelchairs or wheelchair ramps built,” Holloway says. “There were a number of simple things that would help them with their basic needs.”

Holloway says his agency tried to accomplish this, but quickly realized they might need to bring in outside help.

Williamson says he was inspired after researching Spokane Fire Department’s partnership with Eastern Washington University. After heading out to Spokane and speaking with the fire department, Williamson approached the University of Alabama to suggest this partnership about a year ago.

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Holloway says the patients in this program—similar to other community paramedicine and mobile integrated healthcare programs—get the long-term care they need instead of going to emergency physicians to fix short-term issues at a higher cost. This, in turn, helps reduce some of the stress on the fire and rescue company from having to take these patients to the hospital so often.

“It’s almost like triage in the field,” Holloway says. “We’re just trying to get these people the right help in the field.”

But much of the benefit also lands with the social work students, who get vital, real-world experience and gives them a presence in the community should they choose to stay after graduation.

Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Alan Martin says the partnership has been a success so far.

“Not many universities that have a social work program like University of Alabama can provide the kind of opportunities we’re providing for the students,” Martin says. “It’s been a tremendous success for us, the students, the university and the patients.”

In the future, Martin says they want to find a funding source to support the program long term, enter more patients into the program and expand the breadth of the partnership with the University.

Martin says expanding past the social work aspect could mean bringing in EMS students to directly participate in the program.

Martin says Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue is consistently looking for partnership opportunities with mobile integrated healthcare in mind, including the University of Alabama, local hospitals, Medicaid agencies and mental health organizations.

Williamson says partnerships like theirs with the University of Alabama are great for mobile integrated healthcare and community paramedicine programs.

“I would really encourage other fire departments that have any innovative programs to do what Spokane has done and share information,” Williamson says. “As long as other departments are willing to pay it forward, we’re willing to help them all we can.”

To contact Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue or to learn more about their organization, visit

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