OC Paramedics, County Health Department Partner on Integrated Emergency Care Program

OCEAN CITY — A joint training exercise this week between Ocean City Fire Department paramedics and the Worcester County Health Department could improve emergency patient care and reduce the strain on the 911 call system.

Ocean City Fire Department paramedics and county health department care providers this week embarked on training sessions for a relatively new Mobile Integrated Health (MIH) program. It’s no secret emergency services departments and 911 call centers around the state and throughout the country are experiencing higher levels of strain for a variety of reasons including staffing levels and more demand for services, and Ocean City and Worcester County have not been immune.

On many occasions, 911 calls originating from Ocean City to the county’s call center include those in dire need of critical emergency care, but on other occasions, 911 calls come from patients with chronic illness that need specialized care with a trip to a hospital emergency room via ambulance. The latter are often clogging already-stressed emergency service providers dealing with high call volumes, particularly at certain times of the year, or even times during the week.

To that end, the Ocean City Fire Department is partnering with the Worcester County Health Department on its own MIH program aimed at getting treatment to those with chronic illnesses and health issues where they live or work, and not necessarily transporting them to a hospital. Akin to existing home healthcare systems, an MIH allows trained paramedics to treat those who would otherwise call 911, easing the strain on the entire system.

Ocean City Fire Department paramedics this week began training with their county health department colleagues on the integrated emergency healthcare system. The coordinated training began in the resort on Wednesday, according to department spokesman Ryan Whittington.

“Fire departments across the country struggle with the high volume of 911 calls that don’t constitute an emergency that requires an ambulance,” he said. “Unnecessary calls can drain the 911 system with the limited time and resources that departments have. Oftentimes, this is a result of individuals with chronic issues using the 911 system when not necessary.”

MIH programs have been introduced in other areas around the state and across the country with great effectiveness, and, according to Whittington, creating a program here was the next logical step in and around the resort area where resources are often strained.

“This is being addressed in Ocean City and Worcester County with Mobile Integrated Health,” he said. “It’s a patient-centered model being deployed around the country. This model emphasizes at-home treatment by visiting nurses and paramedics with specialized training to perform at-home care, such as health screenings, treatments and follow-ups on a variety of issues.”

According to Whittington, MIH programs that utilize paramedics can provide a number of benefits to a community. Some of the benefits include improved access to care for people living in underserved or remote areas as paramedics are able to provide a range of medical services in the field.

The MIH program has the potential to enhance patient outcomes by providing timely care in the field rather than costly trips via ambulance to hospital emergency rooms, for example. The program can also improve patient satisfaction by treating them in their own homes or community rather than transporting those with chronic issues each and every time.

“The program will enhance the coordination of care by allowing paramedics to work closely with other healthcare providers, such as primary care physicians to ensure patients receive the care they need,” he said. “The MIH program can help improve the efficiency of the healthcare system by reducing unnecessary hospital and emergency department visits and by providing care in the most appropriate setting.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.