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Penn. EMS Outreach Program Helps Patients Recover From Addiction

Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.

May 2—When paramedics leave the scene of a drug overdose where the patient refused to be taken to the hospital, it can weigh on their minds.

Could they have helped more? What happened to the patient?

A new partnership in the North Huntingdon and Rostraver areas is finding success in helping patients seek treatment and paramedics' morale.

"It was an easy fit for us," said Shane Spielvogle, director of North Huntingdon EMS/Rescue. "It feels like we are providing a more complete service. My folks always wanted to be able to do more."

A Community Engagement Team started working in March under a pilot program in Westmoreland County aimed at connecting people who have drug and alcohol addiction problems with help after they've been seen by paramedics.
Ambulance personnel at North Huntingdon and Rostraver/West Newton Emergency Services have been trained to evaluate patients to determine if they could benefit from being connected to case workers with a Community Engagement Team. The program, with help from a $2 million federal grant, will be expanding to Mutual Aid in Westmoreland and other ambulance services in Indiana, Butler, Fayette and Washington counties, said Colleen Hughes, director of the Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission.

The way it works is simple: If a person refuses to be taken by ambulance to a hospital after any type of call where it is determined they have a substance abuse problem, paramedics can make a referral to the team, if the patient agrees, said Mike Iwinski, community engagement team lead case manager at Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services in Greensburg. Screenings can occur on any type of call, including an overdose or some other problem not directly related to an addiction.

If a paramedic makes the referral, SPHS dispatches a case manager and two certified recovery peer specialists, Iwinski said. The trio will meet the patient anywhere to conduct a screening and determine what type of treatment might fit. If the patient follows through, the team will keep tabs on them.

"Our goal is to continue to follow up with them throughout the process, whether that's outpatient or inpatient," he said.
So far, it's been successful, Iwinski said.

Out of more than two dozen referrals, there has been close to 100% engagement, he said. And, if the patient agrees, the team will notify the EMS agency of their progress.

That has been a great facet to the program for the first responders.

"It makes us feel like we've done a better job, we've had a better interaction," Spielvogle said.

Training for Rostraver and North Huntingdon paramedics was funded through the Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission. Other funding for iPads used during patient screenings was awarded to the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU), Hughes said.

A $391,000 state grant awarded to the commission is helping fund the team. The commission also is reimbursing ambulance services that make referrals. An ambulance service does not get paid if they don't transport a patient to the hospital, Hughes said.

Other paramedics at EMS agencies in the five counties will be trained soon with the $2 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through a partnership with the commission, PERU and the Center for Emergency Medicine, Hughes said.


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