The Bellingham Fire Department's Community Paramedic (CPM) program has begun to show significant results in reducing the number of 911 calls made by top users of emergency services.
The CPM program, which started in 2014, aims to reduce emergency medical services (EMS) calls by connecting high utilizers of 911 services for non-emergent needs to more appropriate services. With the program, citizens are connected to medical and social services that better meet their needs and improve patient care and outcomes. It also builds capacity for the Bellingham Fire Department to respond to true emergencies.
"This program got started because our crews were telling us that we were seeing the same people repeatedly, so we worked together to get control of the regular callers," Mannix McDonnell, division chief of EMS with the Bellingham Fire Department said at a Bellingham City Council presentation Monday July 24. "The community paramedic idea came out of that."
Many clients enrolled in the (CPM) program have complex needs related to aging, disabilities, mental health, substance abuse, mobility or homelessness issues. Very few of the CMP program clients are in only one of those categories, and most have co-occurring issues that cause their EMS use. For a client to be enrolled in the program, they have to have six or more EMS contacts within the last year.
The CPM has a case load of about 30 to 50 enrolled patients, and the calls from these patients have been reduced from 500 calls in 2015 to 428 EMS calls in 2016. More recent data shows that EMS calls are 50 percent less for enrolled patients so far in 2017. This has improved from the 20 to 40 percent reduction in EMS calls in 2015-2016.
The CPM program is one part of a new coordinated system of services referred to as the Whatcom Ground-level Response and Coordinated Engagement (GRACE) project. The goal is to create a coordinated system between multiple agencies, including Bellingham fire and police, PeaceHealth and other health providers, to help reduce duplication of efforts and services, as clients can often cycle through different agencies.
"Community paramedicine is an ever changing and evolving discipline and the City of Bellingham is on the forefront of that movement," said Jeff Brubaker, EMS captain of the Bellingham Fire Department. "We strive to utilize proven, data-driven practices and provide outstanding service, while at the same time reduce our EMS call volume. Our overall goal is to improve patient care and outcomes."
The CPM program will expand in coming years as the newly passed EMS levy will pay for increased community paramedic services. For more information, contact Jeff Brubaker, EMS captain with the Bellingham Fire Department, at (360) 739-5413 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.