For people living in rural areas, health care needs far outnumber health care options. These communities already include disproportionate numbers of elderly citizens, impoverished families and those in poor health. Residents must often travel great distances to receive basic care.
The Community Paramedic program closes the gap by expanding the role of licensed and experienced paramedics. The program connects underutilized resources to underserved populations, allowing EMTs to provide home visits to post-hospital patients.
Former Representative Douglas Cox, who is also an emergency room physician at INTEGRIS Grove Hospital, initiated the legislation after visiting a model site in Arkansas. He knew implementing the program here in Oklahoma would require legislation to expand the scope of services allowable by a paramedic.
INTEGRIS Director of Legislative Affairs Anne Roberts recruited Senator Rob Standridge to be the Senator author. He is a pharmacist, and at the time, was the Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services committee.
“Community paramedicine is a proven methodology that helps improve coordination of care,” said Standridge. “This model involves training paramedics to play a more preventative role in the patients’ home post discharge from the hospital, long-term acute care or nursing facility. By focusing more on prevention, fewer patients are readmitted to the facility, coordination is improved between the patient and physician, patient health improves and health care costs are reduced for the patient as well as the health system.”
The legislation became part of the INTEGRIS legislative program in 2016, and was successfully passed and signed into law by the governor. But it wasn’t until recently that INTEGRIS received the grant to officially begin the project.
The Community Paramedic program requires EMTs to complete an authorized training program, and work under the supervision of a medical director as part of a patient care plan developed by the patient’s primary care physician.
Similar initiatives in the United States have resulted in fewer hospital readmissions, as EMTs are able to check on patients recently released from a hospital to make sure they are taking their medications and following their physician’s after-care instructions.
In Oklahoma, as more and more rural hospitals are facing budget shortages and having to eliminate or limit services, the Community Paramedic program offers an opportunity to keep medical resources within reach of their residents. Organizers hope to start offering paramedic home visits as early as March. INTEGRIS Grove Hospital in Delaware County will be the first to implement the program with 17 EMTs equipped to serve as community paramedics.