Paramedics’ roles would include home visits with chronically ill patients under new program

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. -- Officials at Johnson Memorial Health and the Bargersville Fire Department are researching a program that would expand the role of paramedics to include home visits with chronically ill patients.

Johnson Memorial Health EMS Director Tony Lauinger believes the program represents the next era of preventative medicine.

“I always am passionate about the next step in this field in emergency medical services, and this is by far the next step,” Lauinger said. “There’s an emergency, we come out and mitigate that problem, we take care of that emergency. This is being proactive. This is improving the health of the community before that emergency happens.”

As part of the program, paramedics would schedule home visits with people dealing with long-term health complications, as well as those recently released from the hospital. The goal is to keep those people from having to go back to the hospital.

“We’ll follow up with them to make sure they’re following their dietary restrictions, their new lifestyle changes, their medication changes, and make sure they’re as healthy as they can be,” Lauinger said.  

The Bargersville Fire Department and Johnson County Health Department have also partnered with Johnson Memorial Health in researching the implementation of the program. Bargersville Deputy Fire Chief Mike Herron says paramedics could play a vital role in preventing hospital readmissions.

“With the training that we have, we can go out in the community and be utilized a lot more than what we are in non-emergency situations, if you will,” Herron said. “It gets us in the home, and I believe it lets us be the arms and legs of other healthcare providers that aren’t in the home.”

Lauinger admits not all paramedics are enthusiastic about the idea because it would represent a change in their regular duties. For that reason, Herron says paramedics would participate on a voluntary basis.

“My main goal is to be able to keep people from falling through the cracks,” Herron said. “Whether it be an elderly person or someone that’s struggling with chronic illness.”

Lauinger and other health officials are currently in talks with the Crawfordsville Fire Department, where a similar program launched in 2017. He says that program has resulted in great success for the 40 patients enrolled in the program.

“Statistically, you have about a 20-to 40 percent readmission rate,” Lauinger said. “They had a zero percent readmission rate with all of their people that they had.”

There are still lingering questions about what the program would cost departments and patients, as well as where that funding would come from. Lauinger says he’s exploring possible grant funding to get the program started. Herron said the program would likely start with a single paramedic doing home visits before expanding to more.

Lauinger hopes to answer funding and other questions in time to launch the program in the next few months. He also hopes other departments will eventually sign on.

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