Peoria Fire-Medical Department

"The Peoria Fire-Medical Department was recently awarded a $175,000 grant to facilitate a one-year community paramedicine pilot program with fire departments from the cities of Goodyear and Surprise."

According to local first responders, approximately 70% of discharged patients wind up back in the hospital within 30 days of their release.

Now, Peoria first responders and others throughout the West Valley are working together to combat this high statistic.

The Peoria Fire-Medical Department was recently awarded a $175,000 grant to facilitate a one-year community paramedicine pilot program with fire departments from the cities of Goodyear and Surprise. The Peoria City Council unanimously approved the agreement at a September 3 regular meeting, with Goodyear and Surprise council members slated to approve their measures later this month. Assuming no logistical challenges arise, the program should take effect Monday, September 30, Peoria spokeswoman Kristina Perez said.

This isn’t the first time the three departments have worked together, however. In 2016 and 2017 they established a similar program through a grant awarded by the Vitalyst Health Foundation. Now, UnitedHealthcare is allowing the three West Valley cities to continue and build upon those efforts.

According to Peoria Fire Chief Bobby Ruiz, the goal is to reduce the recidivism of patients back into hospitals.

“Sometimes you’re inundated with information when you’re post-op and you leave the hospital, you’re given a ream of information, you don’t know what to do with it, and patients end up back in the hospital within 30 days — about 70% of them end up back in the hospital within 30 days,” Ruiz told council members September 3.

“So, kind of the drive there was to reduce that recidivism of going back to the hospital, and also finding alternative resources for some of our customers that don’t need to go to the hospital but needed to go to either an urgent care, a doctor or minute care nowadays,” Ruiz explained.

The previous grant, according to Ruiz, eventually dried up. But due to the program’s success, he said, the idea was kept alive on a limited basis with a low-acuity vehicle that runs one day a week.

In its new form, the program will operate in the three cities for eight hours per day, three days a week, said Jim Bratcher, deputy fire chief of medical services. A vehicle will respond to pre-scheduled appointments for home visits.

“Oftentimes (when) our paramedics are in the home, they realize that there are additional needs but they’re there on an emergent basis and they’re not able to render those additional resources,” he explained to council members. If that is the case, the paramedics can call the special paramedicine vehicle to the home as available.

“This allows us to go back to a more controlled environment and really delve into what resources the patient may need and try to connect that patient with those resources in the community.”

It will not replace community resources, though. Instead, emergency personnel can simply perform safety checks of homes, determine health care needs and connect residents with resources like hospice, primary care physicians, transportation and meals, he said. Officials are currently reaching out to reengage and refamiliarize those resource organizations and providers with the program and logistics.

“What we’re striving to do is get the right care in the right place at the right time to provide cost-effective health care, and the way we do that is we identify those folks in the community that might need additional resources to not prevent them but lessen the need for them to call 911 for some of their primary health care needs,” Bratcher said, adding that it’s “much more cost-efficient and it provides for a much healthier community.”

Bratcher said the difference between this iteration of the partnership and that in the past is those first responders will now target an expanded user base. Previously focusing on reducing repeat hospital visits by high-frequency patients, he said they now hope to provide resources to prevent individuals from even becoming repeat patients. Support will now also be available through the 911 dispatch system.

The grant covers training costs, medical direction fees, continuing education costs, data analysis and a mobile community terminal in the paramedic vehicle, according to Bratcher.

And in-kind resources to be provided by the three cities include administering the grant, coordinating the program, use of existing vehicles and fuel, and use of existing communication devices, he said.

Though Goodyear and Surprise have yet to approve the intergovernmental agreement on their ends, their respective first responders are already looking forward to the efforts.

 “The Surprise Fire-Medical Department is pleased to be working collaboratively with Peoria and Goodyear fire departments to provide a service that increases the level of service and care to nonemergency patients in need while simultaneously reducing overall costs for our health care system, providing more bed space in hospital emergency departments, and keeping fire trucks available to assist residents and visitors that are experiencing emergencies,” Surprise Fire-Medical Chief Tom Abbott said in a statement.

The Surprise City Council will vote on the measure at a September 17 meeting. Then, the city of Goodyear will vote at a September 23 meeting.

“The collaborative partnership across the three cities is what makes the community paramedicine project so special,” Goodyear Fire Chief Paul Luizzi said. “Providing compassion and care with consistency is what the fire departments are known for, and we’re grateful to receive this grant to continue to meet the proactive needs of the community.”

At the end of the day, according to Bratcher, first responders are looking to measure their collective performance in the program, something with which UnitedHealthcare will assist. He said officials would like to see how effective and sustainable the program is.

“I think this is such a great community service,” Mayor Cathy Carlat said. “The statistics — 70% of these individuals go back to the hospital within 30 days — are huge, and for us to be able to proactively help them with the things that they might need — the medications, getting them set up so that they know how to take care of themselves — it’s just an amazing service that our residents need and may not have called us about. It’s not always an emergency when you don’t know what medication to take. And so, helping them any way is who we should be. I think it’s really tremendous.”