Paramedics aim to educate North Huntingdon residents

north-huntingdon-emsBy Tony LaRussa – Norwin Star

Paramedics in North Huntingdon have added a new service that goes beyond responding quickly to calls for help and transporting patients to hospitals.

They are trying to prevent problems that could lead to an unnecessary hospital stay.

“We felt that some of our residents might be experiencing gaps in the medical treatment that they are receiving,” said Shane Spielvogle, executive director of North Huntingdon EMS/Rescue. “So we came up with a way to use our personnel to try and fill in those gaps.”

The new Community Paramedicine program will send paramedics to residents’ homes to conduct “wellness checks” that include blood-pressure screenings; monitoring manageable diseases such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, emphysema and asthma; discussing proper ways to manage medication; and ensuring that residents are receiving proper nutrition, said John Tirpak, the emergency service’s operations director.

The Community Paramedicine program was modeled after a fall-prevention program the emergency medical service launched in 2010 in which paramedics visit the homes of residents with mobility problems to look for things such as the absence of handrails along staircases, throw rugs or electrical wires on the floors that could cause a person to trip, and the absence of “grab bars” in bathrooms, Spielvogle said.

Marilynn Scappatura of North Huntingdon learned about the new service last month when paramedics came to help after her 78-year-old husband Tony fell out of bed.

Her husband was admitted to the hospital after paramedics determined that he was dehydrated.

They did a follow-up when he was about to be released from the hospital, where he spent five days in intensive care, she said.

“I was getting to the point where I couldn’t take care of him by myself, but I still wanted him to be home with me,” she said. “So the paramedics helped me find home hospice care. They even came to the house and moved furniture out of a room so I could set up a hospital bed for my husband. And before they left, they replaced the battery in my smoke alarm and installed a carbon monoxide detector.

“They didn’t have to do any of that. I was at a point where I didn’t know where to turn, but they were there to help,” she said.

Scappatura said her husband, who had battled diabetes for many years and was suffering from dementia, died from kidney failure Dec. 13.

The Community Paramedicine program will use a variety of sources to identify residents who might benefit from the service, Spielvogle said.

“If we transport somebody to the hospital, we can go back and check on them when they are released,” he said. “There also may be cases where a person has moved out of the area but still has parents back here that they are concerned about. We would be able to go out to the home and check on them.”

While paramedics will conduct the in-home wellness assessments and provide the health screenings, other agencies or groups will be tapped to assist in providing social services, Spielvogle said.

“If a person isn’t getting proper nutrition we’ll contact Meals on Wheels to help out,” he said. “And if we find somebody who is using alternate sources to heat their home because the furnace isn’t working and they don’t have the financial means to fix it, we’ll try to identify ways to help them.”

Spielvogle said the EMS service is in the process of developing partnerships with churches and social services agencies in the Norwin area that are willing to meet residents’ needs.

For now, any costs associated with running Community Paramedicine program will be covered by the EMS service, but Spielvogle is investigating the availability of funding, possibly through grants or reimbursements from Medicare or Medicaid. In some cases, a small fee might be charged to those who can afford to pay.

“The bottom line for is making sure that we identify the people who need help and then finding ways to assist them,” he said.

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