Usually when Ryan Felish jumps in a fire vehicle there’s an all too familiar sense of urgency to get to his destination.
The Lake Havasu City Fire Department captain understands that in his business, time plays a factor in saving lives.
But when he’s traveling in the department’s alternative response vehicle, there’s a sudden ease about that trip because recently he and a few of his cohorts have been working to save lives from another end.
The LHCFD and EMS have seen success from their Community Medic Program, which involves teams of two using an alternative response vehicle to make non-emergency medical follow-up visits to Havasu patients that have been discharged from the hospital.
“It’s neat that it’s the first time we get to prevent emergencies,” Felish said. “You get to spend one-on-one time with people. We’re sitting with them, we’re talking with them. It’s a big change from our day to day work.”
The teams make home visits to patients who have recently been treated for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, which are the two diagnoses that have the highest number of hospital readmits, according to Felish.
Felish said this is probably because patients may not know when to switch recommended medications or what symptoms require immediate attention among other examples that can make aftercare confusing.
These visits, which are free of cost to patients with their consent, are meant to go over the vital information they need to recover and remain healthy.
The checklist includes going over discharge paperwork to make sure the person understands what to do, in addition to reviewing medication instructions and making sure patients set up timely visits with their physicians.
The teams also conduct a home safety inspection to help patients with issues such as unforeseen mobility problems following their release or to make sure smoke detectors are working properly.
“I’d like to call us the missing link from being discharged and seeing their primary care physician,” Felish said.
The department’s Fire Chief Dennie Mueller said it’s a program with multiple community benefits.
Within the six-month initial pilot program, of the 129 patients visited, only seven were readmitted back into the hospital or about 5 percent of patients. That’s much lower than the national average of 30-day readmissions for COPD, which ranges from 17 to 25 percent, according to the National Association for Medical Direction of Respiratory Care.
Mueller said the program also helps reduce the 911 call volume, which according to Felish has dropped for the first time in four years within the six months.
The program also reduces the hospital’s volume for emergencies that patients can easily avoid and saves both patients and taxpayers money, according to Felish.
Firefighter CJ Vaughan said the program has certainly been a change of pace for him.
“We’re always reactive to an emergency,” Vaughan said. “This is past the emergency stage. Now we’re focusing on how to set them up for success.”
Vaughan, a native of Prescott, said he always knew he wanted to be in the emergency medical field to help people.
He remembers when he made a difference for a patient through one of his visits after noticing the man exhibited symptoms that required a doctor visit within 24 hours.
“He didn’t know about (follow-up) doctor visits and couldn’t be seen immediately,” Vaughan said.
So Vaughan was able to communicate with the doctor by offering his special opinion and was able have an appointment set up for the patient the next day.
He also remembers when he used a formula to help a patient determine how much oxygen he needed to get him through to his next visit.
“It feels good that we’re helping them in a different way than we’re used to,” Felish said.
The program is expected to be expanded to reach more at-risk patients in the near future, according to Mueller.