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The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing has launched a partnership to train fire department paramedics in community-based health care. The partnership, announced at an April 29 press conference, also involves the Milwaukee Fire Department, Milwaukee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the Medical College of Wisconsin. The community-based paramedic program will train paramedics to provide follow-up health care to frequent users of emergency medical services. Paramedics will receive training to support these patients and help change health behaviors before patients reach a crisis again.
Last year, Milwaukee County EMS responded to 62,663 calls. Seven percent of those EMS calls – 4,288 – were made by a group of 100 repeat callers, according to Captain Michael D. Wright, mobile integrated healthcare coordinator for the Milwaukee Fire Department. He is part of the planning team for the community-based paramedic training program.
“This program will help provide better care at lower costs,” says Kim Litwack, associate dean of the College of Nursing and a member of the planning team. “Emergency care is the most expensive care there is.”
For patients who are doing well, program treatment will help reinforce their behaviors. For those who are struggling, the follow-up can help get them back on track before their health problems become an emergency, Litwack explains.
This summer, the UWM College of Nursing will collaborate with the Medical College of Wisconsin to train 30 paramedics from the Milwaukee, North Shore, West Allis, Greenfield and Madison fire departments in the “Community Paramedic Curriculum,” a community-based health care model used nationally. The curriculum will provide enhanced training on asthma and infant mortality. The Medical College of Wisconsin and Vitas Hospice will provide clinical experience to the paramedics. Community-based paramedic training will be completed in October 2015. The community-based paramedic pilot will then be implemented in participating communities.
Community paramedics do not replace medical care for those who have primary health care providers, but they do encourage and help those without regular medical care to find it.
UWM’s College of Nursing is known for its community-based nursing care, making it an ideal site to train paramedics in community-based care. Training will be held online and on the UWM campus. This will be the first trained community-based paramedic program in Wisconsin.
The first community paramedic training program started in 2008 at Hennepin Technical College in Minnesota. That state passed the first community paramedic certification law in 2011. Hennepin County has had a community paramedic program in place since 2013, and has anecdotal information that it is working – especially among patients with diabetes and/or heart issues, and those living in communities with limited access to medical care, says Doug Gesme, operations manager of Hennepin County EMS.
However, Hennepin County officials are still a few months away from getting hard data on the impact of the program on total cost of care, adds Gesme. “We’re filling gaps. We’re one more cog in a giant wheel, working with home health care, community health workers, nurse practitioners and other members of the primary care team.”