It’s a new concept that is taking root around the world. The origins trace back to Nova Scotia, which began experimenting with the idea around 2000 when a physician, who had served two remote islands off the Canadian coast, retired. Paramedics were recruited to fill the gap. Similar efforts are now underway in the U.S., including Alaska, Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota, the City of San Francisco and soon New Mexico.
“I have been working to get this program into New Mexico since 2009,” said Sean Haaverson, CNM Emergency Medical Services instructor and Community Paramedic Program founder. “New Mexico has many rural and medically underserved areas where the only way people receive the medical care they need is to travel hundreds of miles to Albuquerque or other populated areas.”
In order to participate in the CNM program, students must already have their paramedic licenses and have been working in the field for a minimum of three years. Some of the program courses include: Introduction to Community Health Care; Community Paramedic Role in Public Health and Primary Care; Cultural Competency; Personal Care; and Advanced Patient Assessment. They also have to complete a five-credit-hour clinical rotation. Upon completing 21 credit hours, the students will receive certificates of completion in Community Paramedic.
All classes will be done online with face-to-face labs on the weekends.
The concept of a community paramedic program is not complicated, Haaverson said. It’ simply to expand the role of EMS workers to provide health services where access to physicians, clinics and/or hospitals is difficult, or may not exist.
According to a 2010 report by the National Women’s Law Center, New Mexico ranks 49th in the country for medically underserved areas, followed by Mississippi, which is 50th, and Louisiana, which is 51st (the rankings include the District of Columbia). Medically underserved areas are locations with limited access to primary care physicians. For some, access is reduced due to living in remote locations, while for others it is due to the disproportionately low number of primary care physicians in a non-remote area. The lack of accessible health care services is particularly severe for poor and low-income people.
Minnesota has had a state-wide paramedic program for just over two years, and it is helping to keep the elderly out of the emergency room. When they are not responding to an emergency, community paramedics visit people at their homes. Depending on the situation, the community paramedic might do a blood test, call Meals on Wheels, or arrange for a wheelchair ramp. The community paramedics visit patients to make sure they are following doctor’s orders, and to be a general healthcare resource.
Haaverson anticipates that the community paramedic program will operate similarly in New Mexico.
The first cohort of CNM students began their classes this Fall Term. Students interested in applying for the next offering should contact Sean Haaverson at email@example.com, or contact CNM’s School of Health, Wellness & Public Safety at 505-224-4111.