Fire departments have a unique bond to their communities. Not only do these professionals place their lives in harm’s way battling a roaring blaze, but fire departments have also taken an active role in mobile integrated healthcare and community paramedicine.
Fire departments are in a unique position to impact those in their community. In addition, local health organizations recognize that communities can benefit from the expertise of fire departments.
Fire departments and their EMS counterparts have been providing preventative care in many ways: fire inspections, child car seat technicians, and conducting local classes in first aid and fire safety.
Why wouldn’t firefighters/paramedics do the same thing in community health? Many departments have answered this question by taking action in their community. As a result, they are effectively reducing hospital readmission and boosting the health and morale of the members of their community.
Let’s see how they do this and answer some questions about implementing a mobile integrated healthcare-community paramedic program (MIH-CP) in a fire department.
Partnership Between Fire Departments and Community Health: How Does it Help?
Fire departments offer a unique perspective on mobile integrated healthcare. Cross-trained paramedics and firefighters are among the most qualified professionals to impact community health.
While paramedics themselves indeed take a close look at a person’s health, those who are also firefighters might have a better eye for holistic health principles, particularly regarding environmental safety.
Here are several benefits the fire department brings to the table:
- Risk prevention. Firefighters can reduce risks within the home.
- Child safety. Many fire departments have trained car seat technicians.
- Primary health. Firefighters are positioned to be a go-between for primary care physicians and rural patients.
We’ll look at these under a magnifying glass in the following few sections. Then, we’ll discuss the steps to start a fire-based mobile integrated health program.
1. Fire Departments and Risk Prevention
When a patient lands in the emergency room, it’s often assumed that a medical condition got out of hand. For example, someone had a seizure and required medication. Or perhaps someone experienced hypoglycemia or an irregular heartbeat, requiring urgent assessment and treatment.
But, it’s easy to overlook that falls are the leading injury-related cause of a trip to the emergency room.
Yes, falls do happen, but there’s usually a preventable reason behind the fall. As a result, fall risk assessments have become a significant component of Fire Department-based MIH programs.
Here are several ways fire departments can reduce fall risk:
- Installing railings. Extra rails can make a huge difference in preventing falls, and there’s a reason that railings are installed in many public businesses – it reduces the risk of falls. Bathrooms, showers, hallways, and stairs are all places a fire department will assess and correct.
- Ramps. Another way to prevent falls is by installing entry ramps to the home. While the ramps certainly help the patient, it also serves another purpose: easy entry for EMS and rescue. In addition, if the patient should have an emergency, the ramps give crews seamless access to the patient.
- Other hazards. Other trips hazards include rugs and failing thresholds. Fire departments can recognize these issues and repair them or request human services to address the problem.
Fire department-based mobile integrated healthcare programs in Buckeye, Arizona, make an initial safety walkthrough part of their regular assessment. A patient who feels safe in their home will be more likely to thrive.
While fire departments can do a great deal for those with mobility impairments, they can also help young children and parents who have limited access to regular care.
2. Fire Departments and Child and Maternal Safety
Fire departments are uniquely positioned to impact at-risk mothers who may lack resources during pregnancy or after birth.
Crawfordsville Fire Department in Indiana has a program called ‘Project Swaddle’ that reaches out to these mothers and fathers. The fire department follows up on these patients, checking vital signs, measuring the height and weight of the infant, and giving the parents another person to call for help.
Mothers and fathers take their newborns to a pediatric clinic in many areas. These visits typically fill two roles: offering a physical assessment of the newborn and providing new parents with education (the Back-to-Sleep program, for example).
However, access to standard services is not always available in a rural environment. As a result, more and more OB departments are shut down in the rural setting, leaving new mothers to fend for themselves.
These areas are known as maternal healthcare deserts. However, there is also a gap in maternal healthcare for urban women.
This maternal a newborn healthcare void is a gap fire departments and mobile integrated healthcare can help fill.
3. Fire Departments and Primary Care
Some communities have a referral program between the fire department and the emergency room.
If the emergency room feels a patient qualifies for community healthcare visits, they will enroll them in the fire department’s community paramedic program.
This system is a win-win. It creates a symbiotic relationship between the fire department and the hospital. As a result, fire departments reduce super-utilizers, and hospitals lower their readmission rate.
How Mobile Integrated Healthcare Helps Fire Departments
What’s in it for the fire department? Many fire departments are already stretched too thin. Is it feasible to explore the possibility of a mobile integrated healthcare-community paramedicine program?
The International Associations of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has built a handbook for fire departments thinking about starting an MIH-CP program. One of the first things they discuss is whether that’s a feasible plan.
For now, here are some of the benefits of a community paramedic program:
- Reducing call volume. Many areas have started a mobile integrated healthcare program out of exacerbation for super-utilizers or those who use the ER six times per year. As a result, departments have seen a reduction in these calls when taking a proactive approach. In addition, lower low acuity calls reduce stress on the department.
- Proactive. Living in a reactive state can cause stress and uncertainty. So often, when faced with a common patient, EMS and fire will worry about “not being able to do anything.” With MIH-CP, it gives providers an outlet, helping them feel they are taking an active role in shaping the health of their community.
- Reducing hospital readmission. Reducing readmission to hospitals may seem to benefit the hospital solely. However, as anyone in EMS knows, what happens to the hospital will trickle down to the first responders. If the hospital is full, they will be sending out more transfers, which means more ambulances removed from 911 coverage.
The revenue stream from mobile integrated healthcare can indeed be challenging to obtain. That’s why all EMS and Fire leaders must reach out to their governments and advocate for better reimbursement for community paramedicine.
How Can Fire Departments Implement a Community Paramedic Program?
How can a fire department start a community paramedic program? It begins with a needs assessment, grows with partnerships, and thrives with continued innovation.
If you’re serious about starting a community paramedic program at your department, check out these two resources:
- The IAFC Handbook on Mobile Integrated Healthcare
- The NFPA’s Fire Based Mobile Integrated Healthcare
These documents provide a comprehensive and close view of the considerations of starting an MIH-CP program at your fire department.
To give you a primer, here are some bullet points to steer you in the right direction:
- Perform a needs assessment. Contact your local hospital and decide if a community paramedic program coincides with the needs of the area. It’s fruitless to force something on an environment that isn’t ready.
- Build partnerships. Integration – we hear that a lot. In essence, integration brings people together, making a given task easier. Contact local primary care clinics, hospitals, and mental health facilities. See if you can get some community partners on board. Julota’s goal is to connect communities through seamless cloud-based software. Connection is key to a successful MIH-CP program.
- Obtain funding. There are ways to fund your program. Grants, partnerships, and revenue-based systems are a few. Please read our article, seven ways to fund your MIH-CP program, for more information.
- Pilot program. Once you have things in place, begin with a pilot program. This will give you several months to work out glitches. Also, it will allow you to prove that your system works. For example, many departments report a reduced hospital readmission rate after starting their program. Those types of testimonials will get potential partners excited.
Community paramedicine could see a considerable shift in its stock in the coming years. If Medicare updates its guidelines to support non-transport, community-based care departments, MIH-CP could proliferate.
Let’s go over the key takeaway.
Key Takeaway for Fire Departments and Mobile Integrated Healthcare
Fire departments can make mobile integrated healthcare work. From California to Massachusetts, there has been evidence that fire departments can and will make a lasting impact on patients’ lives through community outreach.
Not only that, but these programs can reduce the workload on emergency crews, de-clog emergency departments, and give crews more control over their day.
Julota would like to partner with your mobile integrated healthcare program. Click on this link to a contact form and get a hassle-free demonstration of how Julota will help you save time and work efficiently.