N.C. Community Paramedicine Program Proposes Budget to Continue Work
May 22--NEW HANOVER COUNTY--Funding for an in-home paramedicine program run by New Hanover Regional Medical Center is scheduled to continue under a budget proposed by the N.C. Senate.
The program, which began in 2014, is designed to reduce the number of people in New Hanover County from calling 9-1-1 for emergency medical services (EMS) and visiting the hospital's emergency department for non-emergency needs. It sends experienced paramedics to patients' homes for follow-up care to prevent patients from calling 9-1-1 later.
It was needed, said Tim Corbett, manager of the hospital's EMS administrative services. In 2012, just 10 patients accounted for more than 700 EMS responses in New Hanover County and 29 percent of 9-1-1 requests were for situations that were not emergencies, according to a report provided to the N.C. General Assembly.
"How can we prevent people from being re-admitted?" Corbett said. "How can we help people get on the path of recovery?"
"People came to the emergency room because they don't know what else they can do," said Sarah Rivenbark, one of the hospital's community paramedics.
If the numbers are any indication, the program is working.
In its first year, the program tracked 20 "high-volume" users of emergency services for a year before they were enrolled in the program and for one year into the program, according to the report. They found a $558,000 decrease in expenses with a $78,621 decrease in median charge per patient, the report stated.
The proposed N.C. Senate budget calls for continuing to fund the New Hanover program at $210,000 per year.
Patients who do not have other in-home services--like nurse visits, occupational therapy or physical therapy--qualify for the program, Corbett said.
He said patients do not receive bills for the service as the hospital is employing it as a way to reduce the costs that come with repeatedly sending an ambulance to someone's home and having them visit the emergency room.
"We look at it as a cost avoidance," Corbett said. "These are cost generators that we can avoid."
He said the typical community paramedic patient is someone recovering from a surgery who needs help maintaining the kind of medication and post-operative care that helps them recover.
"It's good to have someone come to your home in a non-emergent fashion...to help them prevent it from getting worse," Corbett said.
The paramedics arrive at homes in nondescript Ford SUVs packed with medicine and medical gear.
Community paramedic Mike Strong said he enjoys the work.
"I like the interaction with patients," he said. "I like being able to spend time with them and be a little more personal with them."
The N.C. House is scheduled to release its budget soon, and then negotiations with the Senate over any fiscal differences--including funding for programs--will take place. The state budget for 2017-19 is scheduled to be adopted by June 30.
Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or Tim.Buckland@StarNewsOnline.com.
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