2020 Health Care Heroes: Cutting non-emergency 911 calls while aiding residents

Honoree, Community Achievement in Health Care

Hendricks Regional Health Paramedicine Program

Left, Recina DePriest, Jennifer Miller, Dr. Mark Tompkins, Christina Anderson, Dr. Dustin Holland; right, Kevin Speer, Lindi Holt, Rhonda Conrad, Rebecca Saylor and Rob Roberts (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

More than 20 times a year, Hendricks Regional Health CEO Kevin Speer and his team pack up grills and food and prepare lunch for the county’s first responders as a way to say thank you. Two years ago, Speer returned from one of those lunches with more than dirty cooking utensils and the good feeling that comes with doing something nice.

He came back with an appointment to meet with Plainfield Fire Chief Joel Thacker and the county’s other fire chiefs to discuss an idea. Thacker and his peers wanted to talk about a paramedicine program on the West Coast they’d heard about that was designed to cut down on unnecessary calls to 911 and connect the public with the services they really need.

Speer found out at the meeting that about half of all 911 calls in west-central Indiana are not an emergency. “I didn’t realize how many calls are unnecessary,” he said.

He learned that some people call 911 for non-emergency assistance multiple times a day because they don’t know where else to turn. Each call requires the deployment of a vehicle, equipment and personnel. The fire chiefs estimated it was costing Hendricks County $1.2 million a year.

Speer was sold on the idea of finding a solution. The hospital pledged $2.5 million over five years to fund the effort and partnered with local fire departments and emergency medical services to study various models around the country.

The result is Hendricks County’s Community Paramedicine program, which launched last July. It consists of a Chevy Suburban outfitted with all the equipment and supplies a health care team might need in a non-emergency situation. The vehicle is staffed by social workers and EMS professionals, usually two or three people at a time, who travel to the homes of people referred to the program either by first responders, hospital staff or physicians.

Once on site, they assess what the family needs to avoid future calls to 911. Sometimes, light medical care is involved. More often, the team connects the family to the proper help for a range of services, from adding a grab bar to the bathtub to providing nutrition counseling to manage chronic illnesses. The team sometimes makes multiple visits before a problem is solved.

Speer said the program’s goal is to assist 800 families or individuals in the first year. Since the program started in July, 120 people have been referred. Of that total, 57 declined to participate, 37 are still receiving help and seven cases are pending. The others have all “graduated,” Speer said, and none of them has unnecessarily called 911 since.

Many referrals come directly from EMS. Initially, EMS personnel would give contact information to someone in the program who would initiate contact with the family. Through trial and error, organizers have learned that people are more receptive to the call if the first responders explain the program first.

Among those who decline to participate, Speer said, the most common reasons are that the person is moving, a sick relative who was responsible for most of the 911 calls has moved into long-term care, or the family has identified another source of help.

Cutting down on non-emergency calls doesn’t directly benefit the hospital, Speer said, noting that few if any of the callers ended up in the ER. But it’s a big benefit to the public and first responders.

Read more Health Care Heroes profiles.

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