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Community Paramedicine

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Last winter, senior EMT Lainey Volk made a house call to an island resident, who had recently returned home from the hospital after a bad fall. She intended to assess his home for fall risks. Instead, she ended up counseling him on how to take his medication correctly. “He had been taking the wrong dosage, which caused dizziness,” she says. “That led to loss of balance, and a fall that landed him in the hospital.”

Volk also checks in with patients who are recovering from surgery, or are dealing with a new diagnosis. “One woman just found out she had diabetes, but didn’t know how to measure her blood sugar levels,” says Volk. “People get this information from their doctor, but it may be too much to absorb in one visit. It often helps if I can walk them through some of these new procedures.”

Such home visits are part of a new statewide Community Paramedicine program that became law in 2015. The legislation allows paramedics and EMTs to enter private homes to provide non-emergency health services. The goal is to allow people with chronic conditions to continue to live independently, and reduce the number of hospital visits through home health visits and preventive programs. This is especially beneficial in a rural community, where EMS personnel can collaborate with local doctors to be another set of eyes and ears in people’s homes.

Community paramedicine is a top priority for Jerry Martin, chief of San Juan Island EMS. “This is a very important program for us,” says Martin. “We will be meeting regularly to discuss goals, training, and funding. Stay tuned.”