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In mid-March, Methodist ran three post-discharge test visits with two firefighters from St. Louis Park and Minneapolis along with observers from Park Nicollet. In addition to the 90-year-old woman, firefighters visited a young woman who had undergone surgery and a 76-year-old man with severe heart failure.
The younger woman was low-risk but grateful for the visit, said Betlach. The older woman was concerned about how she was going to get to the doctor and the grocery store. Betlach said a list of community resources would be collected to help firefighters answer such questions.
The man with heart issues said what he found most helpful was firefighters clarifying a question about medications.
After people agree to a visit, firefighters get background information to guide their talk with the patient. They also check smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors, install them if they’re missing, and look for hazards like slippery rugs or wires that cross floors. “The firefighters were extremely welcome into all three homes,” said Betlach. “The firefighters also were very comfortable.”
At the Legislature, a bill has been introduced that would establish certification for community emergency medical technicians who would work with patients in the 72 hours after hospital discharge. It also would allow state reimbursement for those services under Medicaid.
“This would help smooth the way to create more programs like Park Nicollet is exploring,” said Chris Parsons, president of Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters. “We think more hospitals will be interested.”
In the Park Nicollet project, firefighters would get training before making their visits.
The issue of reimbursement for fire departments hasn’t been settled. Edina Fire Chief Tom Schmitz said he has heard from departments in other states that rates range from $50 to $100 per visit.
“If we keep the patient out of the hospital for 30 days, it’s win-win,” Schmitz said.
He’s not worried that a decline in 911 calls would hurt the department.
“We always tell people to call 911 no matter what the problem is if they need to,” he said. “I think over many years, we’ve seen a slight decline. But there are still car crashes and people still get injured and sick. Fire departments have plenty to do.”
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380