Paramedics in Akron will begin offering free, in-home consultations to help residents avoid injuries, live healthier lives and, hopefully, call 911 less for non-emergencies.

The city announced Tuesday that the Akron Fire Department is launching REACH, a community paramedicine program that stands for Resources, Education and Advocacy for Community Health. Paramedics in the program will help seniors and underserved populations live healthier lives by identifying and avoiding hazards at home, like missing handrails, and by offering transportation and education to connect residents with basic medical care and social services throughout the county and city.

“While every call to Akron 911 is treated with professionalism, care, and attention, not every call requires an ambulance ride or emergency department visit,” Mayor Dan Horrigan said in a statement. “Responding to non-emergency calls can result in a preventable utilization of EMS time and equipment. We knew we could serve both patients and the community better by addressing those non-emergency needs in a different way.”

Of the 42,483 911 calls received last year by paramedics in the Akron Fire Department, 9,915 involved requests for non-emergency assistance due to a lack of medication or food, a slip or fall that resulted in no injury, no way to get to a primary care doctor and other preventable reasons that tie up the city's life-saving EMS staff.

“By adopting a community paramedicine program, Akron Fire paramedics and EMTs can operate more holistically by connecting patients with primary health care services and offering preventive solutions,” Fire Chief Clarence Tucker said in the city’s statement announcing the new proactive health care model. “REACH conducts in-home visits and provides a combination of pre-EMS intervention, home safety assessments, social services referrals, education, and health care system coordination and navigation.”

The city of Green launched a paramedicine program in January when fire medic Brian Lloyd approached the mayor about a gap in the community's health care continuum. Lloyd, a Kent State senior studying public health, noticed that residents would get "all this great care from EMS and the hospital. Then they go home, alone," he said.

Patients with broken hips were prone to fall again. Disabled residents lacked the ability to make doctor's appointments or access medication.

Lloyd used previous 911 calls for non-emergency reasons to track down the first 10 residents in the city's paramedicine program. Today, he works with 10 to 20 patients at any given time. Some are referred by firefighters and fellow fire medics. Others connected with Lloyd at Pebble Creek Healthcare Center, a rehabilitation facility, after they've been discharged from the hospital.

Green's program serves three populations: patients with drug, alcohol and mental health issues; patients who regularly use EMS for rides or other non-emergency needs; and the elderly. The "elephant in the room," Lloyd said, is the growing share of seniors in the area.

On home visits, he stresses that he's not there to take anyone away. "The first thing I tell the person is I want to keep you here, safe in your home," Lloyd said. "That breaks down that barrier of fear that they'll be put in a nursing home."

Akron and Green have plans to partner directly with area hospitals to identify more patients who could benefit from preventative care, ongoing support and connections with social service agencies, like the University of Akron School of Social Work or Summit County Job and Family Services.

While patients are identified through the program, officials encourage residents to reach out for help. To enroll yourself or a loved one, call 330-812-7590 in Akron or 330-896-6610 in Green.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.