Newton Fire/EMS Chief Scott Metzler explained a growing community problem to the Newton City Commission on Tuesday night.
“Newton Fire/EMS will respond to about 3,500  calls this year, and what we know from past experience is that the number goes up about three or four percent every year,” Metzler said. “We know that, we expect that, we make that a part of our long range planning process, but we also know that, sooner or later, our system will not be able to handle that call volume.”
For that reason, Metzler said a solution to that issue, Community Para Medicine, was initiated in 2014. So far, the program has yielded favorable results.
In 2014, Metzler said Newton Fire/EMS began taking a hard look at their emergency call volume and discovered “a profound number” of 911 calls generated from only a few patients. Metzler said those individuals are referred to as “super users.”
While Metzler said super users are not bad people, they have unmet needs that cause them to overly lean on the 911 system, which is not adequately prepared to help them with their more complex or chronic health issues.
Aside from Fire/EMS not being able to adequately help patients, the calls overburden the current emergency system, which Metzler said is only meant for emergency intervention and transport to a medical facility.
On top of that, Metzler said these patients are not being properly cared for and that they are entering the medical system in an expensive way.
“Perhaps the biggest problem is [that] this is a quality of life issue for our folks,” Metzler said. “So, if we have people in our community who need to repeatedly call an ambulance to get their needs met, we just feel like we should be able to do a better job.”
In the beginning of the process, Metzler said they quickly discovered who these super users were, but were unsure about how to best help them.
In late 2014, Newton Fire/EMS reached out to Newton Medical Center and started exploring options for these patients. Metzler said those conversations led to the formation of a planning process in 2015.
In January of 2016, Newton Fire/EMS rolled out phase one of Community Para Medicine program.
In phase one, which was all about screening and processing, Metzler said Newton Fire/EMS Division Chief Cory Lehman took a look at the data and put together a list of 13 characteristics that all super users shared.
Newton Fire/EMS currently uses that list for a predictive screening process to identify super users they encounter out in the community. With those patients’ permission, they have been able to connect them with more adequate resources.
In the nine months Newton Fire/EMS has been doing this, Metzler said it has screened 162 patients and referred 123 of those patients to Newton Medical Center, which then followed up with almost all of them and connected them with better resources.
In that time, Metzler said Newton Fire/EMS has seen a significant decline in calls originating from super users, as well as a flattening of the overall 911 call volume.
While he did not care to speculate, Metzler said it is possible the program could also cancel out the previously projected three to four percent increase in 911 calls by the end of the year.
In the last 45 days, Metzler said they have also put phase two of the program into action, which centers around preventing falls.
Looking into the data, Metzler said they found that 30 percent of overall Fire/EMS call volume is because of falls, two thirds of seniors who fall will fall again in six months, 25 percent of seniors who fall and fracture their hip will die in six months and that seniors who have a fall history are 40 percent more likely to be involved in traffic accidents.
During phase two, members of the Para Medicine program are partnering with super users to assess the in-home risks that lead to those falls. Metzler noted that the Bethel Nursing program has been beneficial in many such assessments.
President and CEO of Newton Medical Center Val Gleason, who also spoke to the commission, said they are attempting to establish “a hospital without four walls.” In other words, Gleason said hospitals of the future will need to increase efforts to care for people outside the hospital.
In initially meeting with Newton Fire/EMS, Gleason said she was incredibly impressed with the amount of data they had gathered.
Like Newton Fire/EMS, Gleason said the hospital had pinpointed their own super users, but upon comparison, they were not the same super users the Fire/EMS was encountering.
Gleason said that prompted them to reassess their preconceived notions about super users and work to create more of “a parallel pathway” for both groups.
Gleason also said Newton Medical Center hired a social worker, whose task has been following up on nearly 80 percent of the patients referred to them – for nearly a year now.
“We are very pleased to offer that service to the community, because we have the means to offer that right now,” Gleason said. “We are [also] offering the intellectual capital of several people around the medical center.”
Gleason suggested that improving the Community Para Medicine program is not only addressing the needs of citizens, but could ultimately help reduce the burden on both Newton Fire/EMS and other community healthcare providers.
“…we think it’s improving the life of the citizen, which it is,” Gleason said, “but it is [also] improving the lives, perhaps, of other organizations in the community.”
In January 2017, Gleason said Metzler and Newton Fire/EMS team will speak with the Newton Medical Center board of directors.
In other business, the city commission:
• Recognized retired Newton Fire/EMS Chief and current Harvey County Emergency Management Director Gary Denny, who has received the 2016 Outstanding New Emergency Management Professional award from the Kansas Emergency Management Association. Current Newton Fire/EMS Chief Scott Metzler outlined Denny’s many accomplishments and Denny himself spoke, thanking the commission for their recognition.
• Received a proclamation declaring the week of Oct. 16 through Oct. 22 (2016) as Newton Business and Professional Women’s Week. The week is a time for citizens of Newton, all civic and fraternal groups, all educational associations, all news media and other community organizations to join in a salute to women, as well as to promote the celebration of the achievements of all women and their contributions to economic, civic and cultural purposes.
• Received student Eli Redington, who is part of Mirror Inc.’s Youth Development Program (Youth as Resources). Redington said told the commissions that he had traveled to Topeka on Monday for the Kansas Youth Empowerment Conference, where he learned about the history of the Red Ribbon Campaign.
In response to “epidemic stages” of alcohol and drug abuse in the nation, Redington said Red Ribbon week, which will take place from Oct. 23 to Oct. 31 is a time for businesses, government, parents, law enforcement, media, medical, religious institutions, schools, senior citizens, service organizations ad youth to demonstrate their commitment to healthy, drug-free lifestyles by wearing and displaying red ribbons during the week-long campaign.