SALISBURY – A pilot program between the Wicomico County Health Department and various health and emergency services is expected to provide recurring emergency room visitors with additional resources.
In a Wicomico County Council meeting Tuesday, Dennis DiCintio, the health department’s deputy health officer, briefed the council on a new program called the Salisbury Wicomico Integrated First Care Team (SWIFT), an initiative that uses grant funding from CareFirst to target Salisbury residents who utilize transport services to the emergency room for non-emergency purposes more than five times in a six-month period.
“There are approximately 30 or 40 individuals who have seen the emergency department more than five times in the past six months,” he said. “Some of those individuals have gone every day, especially for non-emergency use.”
DiCintio said the team will consist of a paramedic and an EMT from the Salisbury Fire Department and a registered nurse with Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC). The group will be responsible for making home visits to enroll recurring ER visitors in the program and find those individuals a primary care physician or additional treatment sources.
“A lot of these individuals require additional access to behavioral health services,” he said.
Council President John Cannon asked why residents were calling for emergency services.
“Is it a recurring problem?” he said. “What is causing that?”
DiCintio said behavioral health issues and lack of social support in the community lead individuals to call 911 for several reasons.
“We are talking about the lack of management for chronic disease, complications due to diabetes, COPD, a number of issues,” he said.
Cannon asked DiCintio how the health department would access an individual’s medical information.
“How is the hospital allowed to release that information to you?” he said.
DiCintio explained the health department has established an agreement with the Salisbury Fire Department and PRMC.
“When an individual goes to the emergency room that information is captured by the Salisbury Fire Department and PRMC,” he said. “Once they make contact with an individual they will get them to sign releases if they want to be enrolled in the program. Those releases will then allow the health department to be a part of that referral process.”
Councilman Larry Dodd said the program will combat unnecessary transports to the emergency room.
“A lot of times the providers automatically know where they are going, what the call is for, and it’s abuse of the 911 system,” he said. “Somebody that is dying of a heart attack could use an ambulance but they are tied up on regular customers.”
Councilman Joe Holloway asked if the health department is working with other county services.
“Do you have these problems also with county-run ambulances …?” he said. “Are you doing anything with the local fire departments on this?”
DiCintio explained the issue was a problem throughout the county, but said the SWIFT program only targets individuals in Salisbury.
“That’s where the majority of those cases are,” he said. “If we can get expanded funding, then we’ll look outside to other jurisdictions in the county.”