Health
3:30 am
Wed March 20, 2013

Pilot Program Aims to Provide Preventative Care Through EMTs

The newly announced Community Paramedic Program, from Pitt’s Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT), retools the image of emergency medical service personnel.

Instead of racing through city streets, sirens screaming, EMTs participating in the pilot initiative will provide regular in-home care for area residents with chronic conditions.

CONNECT is part of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ Center for Metropolitan Studies and represents the City of Pittsburgh and 37 contiguous communities.

The Community Paramedic Program grew from a shared concern regarding EMS funding in area municipalities. It exemplifies how municipal collaboration can yield otherwise unlikely solutions to shared problems, said Kathy Risko, CONNECT’s executive director.

“One single community — be it the City of Pittsburgh, Shaler, Edgewood, Wilkinsburg — they couldn’t pull off by themselves a program like this,” she said. “There’s space in which local governments, when they sit down together and work together, they can find efficiencies.”

Finding those efficiencies is one of CONNECT’s main goals: To create and implement ideas that maximize the economic prosperity of western Pennsylvania.

Very often, people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic heart disease will make emergency calls that result in expensive emergency room visits. With proper monitoring and treatment, those incidents could be prevented before they escalate. 

By providing better, more consistent, in-place care to vulnerable residents with chronic conditions, the program will help to contain healthcare costs by preventing unnecessary visits to the emergency room, Risko said.

“It’ll save the patients money," she said. "It’ll save the EMS providers money; it’ll save the insurers money. I mean, everyone can benefit if people can manage their disease with an intervention in their home.”

Envisioned as a customized care program, the Community Paramedic Program will roll out this summer and last for two years. Funding partners UPMC and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield have allotted $600,000 to train personnel and provide operational support over the course of the program.

It's unclear how many EMS personnel will participate in the initiative or how many patients will receive care. Part of being a pilot program is to work out such questions, Risko said.

“This is a program that’s going to help these communities, but certainly if it’s as successful as we hope, we expect it to go out to the rest of the county, if not the rest of the state,” she said.