Looking a the numbers at the end of the first year of the Racine Fire Department’s home visit program, department Division Chief Brian Wolf said he’s seen how the program “is greatly needed.”
For its first year, the program has been focused on cardiac patients. Fire Chief Steve Hansen said the department’s partners in the program at Advocate Aurora and Ascension All Saints would like to see the program expanded, but the department’s plan is to grow the program incrementally.
The Mobile Integrated Health program sends specially trained paramedics to check in on patients who were recently discharged from the hospital. During those visits, the paramedics ensure the patients are following their discharge instructions, check their vital signs, provide long-term health guidance (regarding diet, exercise, quitting smoking, etc.), and check the home for potential health risks, such as tripping hazards. If the paramedics find anything alarming regarding the home or patient’s health, the patient’s doctor is immediately notified.
MIH had a trial period in 2018 and was fully rolled out with the city’s 2019 budget. Initially it was a collaboration between Racine Fire and Ascension All Saints.
Since the program has focused on discharged cardiac patients, Wolf told the Police and Fire Commission on Monday that paramedics have also been able to access specialists to answer questions.
According to Fire Department data compiled on Dec. 10, the department received 848 MIH calls in 2019—calls that would have otherwise been dispatched to emergency services.
“We’ve helped a lot of people stay out of the hospital,” Wolf said. “So it’s greatly needed.”
Commissioner Keith Rogers said his mother had been a frequent heart patient.
The family had later learned that she had dementia and had not been taking her heart medication.
“(MIH personnel) maybe could have spotted some things quicker than we would have because we wouldn’t have known what to look for,” said Rogers. “So I’m pretty excited about the program.”
Rogers asked why emergency service calls have continued to climb even with the program in place. Hansen said it was a matter of educating the public on what warrants a visit to the emergency room and what doesn’t.
“We’re trying to educate people,” said Hansen. “Part of what our paramedics and EMTs do in the field is they try to educate the folks that they’re transporting on what constitutes an emergency and what constitutes routine care.”
Hansen said the department’s health care partners would like to see the program expand to include patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but says the department does not have the staff to handle that expansion.
“They’re hot to have us start taking on these patients, but we want to grow the program incrementally so that we’re not overwhelmed and make sure that we have the appropriate resources,” said Hansen.
Hansen said the goal right now is to have six more people complete the MIH training at UW-Milwaukee, which includes clinical field work.
“It’s not just giving somebody a notepad or a computer and saying, ‘Go do some home visits,’ “ said Hansen. “There’s additional training that’s involved.”
This story has been revised from its original version. The Racine Fire Department has not partnered with Advocate Aurora for the MIH program.