EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - A new breed of health care professionals is being certified this week. They're called "community paramedics" and they will be the first of their kind certified in the country. They're trained to fill a gap, providing less expensive care to older Americans and the under-insured.
They're also expected to reduce the number of ambulance calls.
Thirteen community paramedics will get their certification on Thursday at the place they did their training, Hennepin Technical College in Eden Prairie.
"This has kind of invigorated me in being a paramedic," community paramedic Kai Hjermstad said. "I was getting to the part of my career where my body was starting to give out from carrying patients and all that. This gave me another avenue to go in."
"Those of us who have been dealing with health care for a number of years have been finding increasing problems with patients' access to health care," said Dr. Mike Wilcox, Medical Director of the Community Paramedic program at Hennepin Technical College.
Wilcox said community paramedics will fill the gap. They'll check vitals. Make sure a patient is taking medication. But you won't call 911 to get one.
Community paramedics are paramedics with at least two years of experience and additional training. They'll do house calls in their own vehicle for people with chronic conditions.
"In the areas of congestive heart failure, diabetes, chronic lung failure, arthritic problems, all of these issues have prevented a lot of these folks from getting into a clinic," Wilcox said about the benefits of the new program.
Eighty-five-year-old Bob Watson of Minneapolis, who helped demonstrate a training exercise at the college on Tuesday, liked the idea. "Sounds good to me," he said.
Who dispatches a community paramedic? If you call 911, you will still get an ambulance.
Community paramedics will be dispatched by doctors to check on patients after a hospital stay or dispatched by a nurse line which in the past may have suggested a patient call an ambulance if it was known the patient had no other way to get medical care. Public health is also expected to dispatch community paramedics.
Hjemlstad said a community paramedic visit is expected to cost around $100 versus $2,500 for an ambulance ride to an emergency room.
"It seems to me this is the most reasonable way to get things done for patient care and at a cost savings that's going to benefit all of us," Wilcox said.
The first group is expected to be employed in September 2012 through North Memorial Health Care.
While they will start out working in the Twin Cities metro area, Wilcox said community paramedics will be especially valuable in rural counties where there can sometimes be a shortage of public health nurses.
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