What started as a Satellite Beach Fire Department fall-prevention study has, with the help of a state grant award, blossomed into a 24/7 medical service for seniors, including help with medications and transportation as part of the Community Paramedic Program.
The department in 2007 began analyzing data from every fall in the city to identify causes and trends. Within the first six months of the program, fire department officials realized the most common reason for elderly falls was prescription errors. The second leading cause was for a medical reason, like standing up too fast or lack of balance because of loss of feeling in their feet. “We noticed that patients were on multiple meds from multiple doctors filled at multiple pharmacies. Many were on two or three blood pressure medications instead of the one they were told to take. That told us that, in order to get into the fall issue, we’re going to have to get into the health care side of this,’’ said Satellite Beach Fire Chief Don Hughes.
To that end, the Community Paramedic Program was established in April 2008, and initially focused on targeting people who dialed 911 a lot.
“As we started the program we realized very quickly that we were only scratching the surface for what the true problem was. Started developing a profile of a patient likely to be a high user of 911 using factors like support structure and if the patient lived at home,’’ Hughes said.
In 2008-2009 the program took care of 20-25 people and remained very low key during tight budget times.
That changed in 2014 when Hughes’ administrative assistant retired and Hughes created the position of full-time Community Paramedic. In January 2015 Melanie Drake was hired from within the department to fill that post. Today, the program serves, on average, 100 patients, with about 30 or 40 of those patients requiring a lot of “hands on coordination,” he said. Some start out needing a great deal of help, but as they get more organized and stable, require much less, he said.
The medics also manage doctors’ appointments and help when patients return home from surgery. “We provide medical clarity to the doctor and provide info on the field assessment so the doctor has a clearer picture of what needs to be done,’’ he said.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest wellness factors doesn’t have to do with medicine or doctors’ appointments.
It’s the direct link between social stabilization (friends, groups, etc.) and healthcare stabilization.
“They are linked together. We have noticed that it’s harder for somebody who lives alone, is trying to maximize financial resources and has no support system. Many of these citizens become isolated in their home and that isolation might hurt their quality of life and health,’’ he said.
After two years as a community medic part time, firefighter paramedic Eric Tippins says the program is a variety of evolving tasks, sometimes helping make contact with relatives to give them peace of mind, helping with medicines especially post-surgery, and getting seniors to recognize early on that as they get older they have different safety needs. He now looks for seniors who could benefit from the program during calls as firefighter paramedic.
“They become almost like family. It’s a very social interaction and I get to be a problem-solver. As they get older they recognize they need help but don’t know where to go,’’ Tippins said.
Besides medical help and advice, the program is partnered with SCAT Volunteers in Motion which has two vans at the Satellite Beach Fire Station ready to get seniors to doctor’s appointments as well as to non-medical events and activities.
“We try to get them matched up with something that would make sense for them. We’re not a cruise director. They tell us what they want to do and we’ll make the magic happen,’’ Hughes said.
A recent grant from the Florida Department of Health of about $60,000 will allow the department to increase the number of hours for community paramedics to have one on duty 24/7.
As Hughes prepares to retire, he believes the community medic program will be a lasting legacy.
“I created a healthcare system for senior citizens in our city. They don’t teach you that in fire chief school.’’
For more information, call the Satellite Beach Fire Department weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 321 773-4405, Ext. 4.