Champaign County was awarded a grant from the Ohio Department of Health that will be used towards a new community paramedicine program focused on healthcare in rural areas.
The county was one of three communities in Ohio to be awarded the grant that aims to establish a program to better connect residents to regular primary care as well as other preventive health services.
Mercy Health Urbana Hospital received the $225,000 grant and that money will be distributed to the new program during a period of three years.
Representatives of the hospital said the county has a sizable aging population and a number of residents with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurological and respiratory disorder.
The goal is to address several barriers to healthcare access not only in the city of Urbana but in the rest of Champaign County. Those barriers include geographic distance, lack of transportation and financial challenges.
The population of Champaign County was estimated to be 38,754, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During that same year, it was estimated that the county had a rate of 18.1 primary care physicians per 100,000 people, according to Mercy Health. The state’s average was 76.7 physicians per 100,000 people.
The program, which is expected to roll out within a 6 month to one year period, will employ a person who will be tasked with making home visits with residents, conducting health and safety assessments, connecting patients with local and state resources as well as conducting follow up visits, said Tracy Short, the community education coordinator for Urbana Hospital and the project manager for the community paramedicine program.
Referrals for the program can be made by paramedics out in the community or from physicians and staff in the emergency department of Urbana Hospital, said Jamie Houseman, the president of Mercy Health Urbana Hospital.
“CP is a new health care model that allows paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to serve in expanded roles, bringing primary care and preventive services to under-served populations in the community,” Houseman added.
“In addition to providing community members with important access to health care services, CP can help lower overall health care costs by reducing visits to the emergency department (ED) for non-emergency health issues,” she said in a news release.
Urbana Fire Chief Dean Ortlieb said the number of medical related calls received and runs carried out by his department have increased by nearly 500 over a period of 9 years.
Those type of runs went from 1,885 in 2010 to 2,349 in 2019, according to data provided by the city of Urbana. That number was slightly higher in 2018, with that department completing 2,394 EMS related runs.
“We want to improve people’s quality of life. We have to be realistic on how we accomplish that,” said Ortlieb.
He said the main focus of the new paramedicine program in the county is not to just lower EMS-related calls, but improve residents' overall quality of life. For those who may have chronic illnesses, it means identifying those symptoms early on and looking at ways to reduce barriers to care.
“People start to deteriorate in health and they do not know what to do,”Ortlieb said.
In addition to addressing physical health factors, representatives of Mercy Health said they also want the program to tackle mental health issues.
The county has a low number of behavioral health specialists available to provide care, Short said. The paramedicine program will aim to address those concerns by providing mental health screenings in the community, nursing homes and assisted living facilities and connecting community members to mental health care, she added.
Short said as the program continues to develop, Mercy Health, along with its community partners, will look at ways to sustain a version of the program after the grant runs out.