Great Falls Emergency Services is one of six EMS departments in Montana to receive government funding to pilot a community-based healthcare program.
“There’s a lot of exciting opportunities and various options that community paramedicine can be integrated in our community to really improve the health care situation,” GFES general manager Justin Grohs said.
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services secured $300,000 in federal and private funding for the two-year pilot. All six sites received $50,000 each to cover training and equipment expenses.
This new opportunity is the result of revised legislation that will allow GFES to deliver more effective and efficient non-emergency care.
“Historically, they just said that ambulances could respond to emergencies and transport the patient to the emergency department,” Grohs said. But with this state funding, GFES plans to pilot community integrated healthcare.
Community Integrated Healthcare (CIH) means EMT and paramedics can fill nontraditional roles. They will now be able to visit patients at their homes and provide aid or treatments to them wherever they may be.
Grohs says this plan will benefit the community because it will reduce the cost of healthcare and improve the patient's experience.
Their first plan is to establish a program at Saint Ann’s Cathedral.
“What we’re going to start off with is both GFES paramedics and a representative from Alluvion Health will be on site at Saint Ann’s during this event to do some basic assessments and interview the patient. It will all be optional, of course. Alluvion Health is going to be able to refer them to a medical practitioner or someone at their facility to get some good solid healthcare going to for that patient,” Grohs said.
Grohs says they will most likely focus on the homeless population and what they refer to as “high utilizers,” which is someone who calls 911 often.
“It’s much more cost effective in terms of usage of healthcare dollars. It tends to be a much better experience for the patient as well,” Grohs said.
Grohs predicts the pilot program will be up and running by mid-September.
“Everyone agrees it’s important to get the folks access to healthcare who have medical issues. We want them in the healthcare system being treated effectively versus their disease progressing unchecked, which ultimately results in a critical situation where someone has to call 911 and the patient gets rushed to the emergency department. If these folks are part of the healthcare system and are being looked at routinely and regularly, the hope is that that can be eliminated,” Grohs said.
The GFES team will complete required Community Paramedic Technician training through Hennepin Technical College in Minnesota. During their training, they will learn a range of services including wound care, post-hospitalization follow up, medication set up, home safety check and other services in the home.
“This really is an exciting opportunity for Great Falls and GFES in particular. Community paramedics and programs have been active around the country for several years now. They tend to be customized to the community and meets the community’s needs, and of course every community is different. They’ve been shown to be enormously effective in handling high utilizers more effectively,” Grohs said.
The other five EMS departments that received grants were Jesse Ambulance in Broadus, Marcus Daly in Hamilton, Rocky Boy EMS, Red Lodge Fire Department, and Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital in Glasgow.