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Wisc. MIH-CP Program Goes Virtual During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.

A program conducting home visits with vulnerable patients after they have been checked out of the hospital is doing its best to go online, both for the sake of the paramedics and patients.

Racine’s Mobile Integrated Health program went into a trial phase in the fall of 2018 and was fully implemented in 2019. Paramedics with the Racine Fire Department underwent training on how to carry out home visits to patients who had recently been discharged from the hospital.

The goal of the program is to ensure the patients are following their discharge instructions, taking their medications and watching for any red flags of circumstances that could risk that person needing to return to the hospital.

Brian Wolf, the Fire Department’s division chief of professional standards and head of the MIH program, said that because of the COVID-19 outbreak, most of the those check-ins and other services to help with recovery are now being done over the phone, sometimes with video chat or online.

“As much as we want to go visit our patients because it’s a really cool relationship, since we don’t know enough about this coronavirus we want to be cautious,” Wolf said.

The program has 12 paramedics checking in on 86 patients, helping both them and their families. Wolf gave the example of an MIH paramedic helping the son of a patient fill his father’s pill organizer so his father got the medication he needed every day.

“Everyone has different needs,” Wolf said. “Whatever we can do to help.”

The focus of the program was initially on patients who had been treated for more serious conditions such as congestive heart failure, obstructive pulmonary disorders and cardiovascular strokes.

Last summer the program, in partnership with Racine’s Public Health Department, expanded to provide similar services to people who have been administered Naloxone or Narcan.

With support from a state grant, officials developed a program in which a public health educator and an MIH paramedic visit the patient’s home and teach them—or their family or friends, whomever is home—about opioids, overdose, treatment options and the resources available at the Health Department.

“Resources are really limited in the community, so once we have contact with an individual, we provide the opportunities they feel most comfortable with,” said Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox.

The individual or their family will also receive a can of Naloxone, or Narcan, and receive training on how to identify and overdose and how to properly administer Naloxone. Sometimes, if the individual who overdosed is not at home, the workers will educate their family or friends who are at the location.

The program has administered more than 60 visits since it began. Bowersox said that some of the participants have taken steps to stop using opiates, but she doesn’t see any direct correlation to the program.

“With addiction, everyone arrives at sobriety at their own time,” said Sarah Clemens, a public health educator who participates in some of the house visits. “When they decide, they have resources so they can make that change.”

The grant money has been used, but both departments decided to continue the program into 2020.

The visits were conducted once a week but were suspended last week due to the coronavirus outbreak. Wolf said it was unknown when they will be able to restart.

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