When a serious health problem happens, you go to the hospital. However, some of the biggest challenges patients face happen after being treated and once they leave.
“A lot of times when you get discharged from the emergency room, you’re getting overwhelmed – everything’s being thrown at you, including new medications, new instructions, just everything,” Cheryl Wears with our ministry’s Community Paramedicine Program explains. “Elderly people, especially, will get home and question what just happened and what now. I can be that person to go out and talk them through that, help them understand what they need to do and ultimately reduce those repeat emergency room visits.”
Mercy Health, with the help of Dean Ortlieb, Urbana fire chief, secured a grant to launch the Community Paramedicine Program in Urbana in 2019.
“With more than four decades of experience in the fire service, I’ve consistently encountered individuals grappling with the challenge of not knowing where to seek assistance,” Chief Ortlieb says. “Many find themselves lost within bureaucratic systems, lacking community partners or family support to guide them through the complexities. Fortunately, our journey aligns with the support of valuable community partners, exemplified by our collaboration with Mercy Health. Through strategic utilization of this grant, we are now actively working together to bridge the gap and provide vital assistance to those in need within our community.”
Working with local first responders, Cheryl collaborates with other agencies to ensure patients have the support they need to succeed at home – whether that support be medical, emotional, mental or spiritual.
“While our goal is to provide assistance efficiently, we also strive for long-term impact,” Chief Ortlieb adds. “Rather than keeping individuals in the program indefinitely, we aim to empower them to address their needs and progress independently in their lives. The ultimate objective is to facilitate positive change and enable individuals to move forward with newfound resilience and self-sufficiency.”
If a patient can’t get transportation for follow-up doctor visits, Cheryl will assist in setting up a virtual visit. In many instances, patients end up in the emergency room simply because they don’t have a primary care provider. So, she’ll also help them connect with one.
“Cheryl is sort of a first responder from the hospital,” Brian Miller, our community relations director, explains.
“She removes some of those barriers and can get out there faster than the social services agency is available most times. Because of her connections, she can even get them help faster in some cases, and that’s what it’s all about – filling that care gap.”
Since it began, the community paramedicine program has helped more than 350 patients with everything from answering medical questions and providing basic care to connecting patients with meal support or other assistance, such as having a ramp built at a client’s home.
The program’s goal is to provide help directly to those who need it most.
“We get referrals into the program from absolutely everywhere,” Cheryl says. “First responders, staff at the hospital, primary care doctors – but I’ve also had a lot of people just call me up directly and say, ‘Hey, can you help me?’ I’ve learned over the years, too, that it’s a lot more social needs than medical needs. So, I never know what the call will be for and we don’t focus on one certain thing. We just take all of them that come in and try to make something happen.”
The communities it serves say this program has made a huge impact.
“When Cheryl came out and explained the program, we immediately knew it would be wonderful because we knew there were so many resources out there these people needed that we couldn’t fulfill for them,” Karen Salerno, victim advocate with the Mechanicsburg Police Department, shares. “She’s a victim advocate for people with health issues – that’s how I look at it. She fills the gap in services offered so nicely, and we couldn’t do what we do without her.”
Marlana Shonkwiler is an EMT with the Mechanicsburg Fire Department. She believes the program has helped alleviate some of the strain on the local community’s resources by addressing the root problem of too many people calling 911 with non-emergency issues.
“We are an aging community, where a lot of people just need someone to talk to, or they need just a little bit of help – say to get up out of their chair or to get something to eat – so they call 911,” Marlana explains. “That’s where Cheryl comes in – she’s helped tremendously with getting them the resources they need and that we, as a fire department, couldn’t provide.”
Both Marlana and Karen say they’ve seen a big drop in calls they receive for service since the community paramedicine program came to town.
“Before, if someone didn’t call, you’d start to worry about them and whether they’re doing OK,” Marlana shares. “This program has been a huge relief because not only have the frequent callers decreased, but we know it’s because these people who needed help are getting it.”
For more information about our community paramedicine program or to make a referral, call 937-484-6218.
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