CALAIS, Maine — Calais Fire-EMS is one of six services recently approved statewide to participate in a pilot project that is intended to bolster local health care while decreasing trips to emergency rooms and doctors’ offices.
Beginning June 1, it won’t be out of the ordinary for a Calais ambulance and paramedics to arrive at a patient’s home, not to transport the person to a hospital, but to check his blood pressure or maybe make sure his medications are being used properly.
“This program is sort of a stopgap measure,” explained Calais Fire Chief Robert Posick. “There are a lot of people, particularly in Washington County, that fall through the cracks. We can now go directly to them.”
Approved by the Legislature last year, the pilot project establishes a Community Paramedicine Program designed to provide limited in-home care for qualifying patients. Some of the services could include taking blood samples and vital signs, reviewing medicines, following up on doctors’ orders and checking on patients with a history of falls.
Maine is one of the earliest states to adopt such a program, according to Jay Bradshaw, director of Maine Emergency Management Services, the sponsoring agency.
“The way we are doing this, it puts us toward the lead of the pack,” Bradshaw said Tuesday.
“This is not intended to expand the scope of EMS services,” he said. “But rather to have EMS work with local doctors, health centers and hospitals as partners. It is definitely a way to do more with less.”
City Manager Diane Barnes said the city council is eagerly watching the program.
“This program will help those individuals in the community that do not qualify for Home Health Services that need limited home care to improve a particular medical condition,” she said Tuesday. “This program will also help hospitals reduce their readmissions by coordinating transitions of care, which is a requirement under the Affordable Care Act of 2010 for Medicare patients.”
Posick said Calais EMS Director Janet Purton has done “the lion’s share of the work” in coordinating the program with local doctors, hospitals and state officials.
He said he expected the Calais Fire-EMS service to visit two or three patients a week. “This will never get in the way of our primary mission,” he said.
Posick said doctors would identify potential patients. Visits would be made for the prevention or improvement of conditions such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or hypertension. Posick said the program is not intended to replace home health care visits, but rather to augment them.
“We are never going to pretend that our paramedics are nurses,” Bradshaw said. “But there are a number of patients statewide that rely on the emergency department or are readmitted to a hospital when there might be a simple, less expensive fix. We are investigating those possibilities.”
The organizations approved to participate in the pilot program are Calais Fire-EMS, Delta Ambulance Service in Waterville, United Ambulance Service in Lewiston, Crown Ambulance in Aroostook County, Northeast Mobile Health in Scarborough and St. George Volunteer Ambulance Service in the Port Clyde area. Eventually Bradshaw hopes to have 12 pilot programs operating throughout the state.
Bradshaw said that the pilot program is set to operate for three years but that assessment will be ongoing.
“No matter how good this program feels, we have to take an unbiased look at whether it is successful at determining its real value,” he said.