Guest Blog: Community Paramedicine to Support Community Wellness in Southern Arizona

By: Matt Eckhoff and Les Caid Nestled within Arizona’s Santa Cruz County and only about 10 miles from the US-Mexico border, Rio Rico is a community with a diverse identity much like many of Arizona’s rural towns. Les Caid is the Fire Chief of the Rio Rico Fire District which is charged with providing fire and emergency medical services to the approximately 20,000 members of the District’s community. Caid has observed the toll that growing rates of chronic illnesses and poor access to health care can have on the population he serves. Increasingly, the 911 system is used as a safety net for community members who lack access to sufficient primary care. In order to alleviate these issues, Caid is looking to the innovative concept of Community Paramedicine. The concept is simple: use the skills and infrastructure of already existing emergency medical personnel in order to provide preventive health services to improve community wellness. In the case of Caid’s district, paramedics who typically work in an emergency role will receive additional training in primary care in order to be the eyes and ears of primary care providers out in the community. Community Paramedics will be equipped to reach out to patients at highest risk for using the 911 system. Community Paramedicine has existed in the US and abroad for many years but is making a stronger jump into the US health care structure due to the growing emphasis of preventive health care. “It makes sense”, says Caid, “it is the right thing to do for our community. In rural areas, especially, there is a great need for Community Paramedicine. We want to change outcomes via prevention”. Through Community Paramedicine, Caid will work with primary care providers to use paramedics in the field to provide health services. This will support primary care providers who are often in short supply and hard-pressed to meet demand in rural communities. Caid sees the strength of building partnerships in order get the best results from scarce resources. In April 2013, nine stakeholders from throughout Arizona gathered to discuss the potential for Community Paramedicine. One thing was clear- creating partnerships to improve community access to preventive health services will be necessary to combat the growing burden of chronic illnesses within all our communities. The group’s discussion about Community Paramedicine is available here. Caid continues to seek additional partnerships to support moving Community Paramedicine forward; most recently having met with one of Arizona’s 14 critical access hospitals, Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales to build support around Community Paramedicine. Dr. Roy Farrell, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Debbie Knapheide, Chief Operating and Nursing Officer of Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital offered their support to Caid with the goal of supporting their hospital’s sickest patients. Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital is Santa Cruz County's only inpatient medical center. Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital and the Rio Rico Fire District have agreed to work together to build the foundation which will identify a target group, establish trust, collect data, and ensure best outcomes for patients who can benefit from Community Paramedicine in Southern Arizona.

Matt Eckhoff is a MPH student at the University of Arizona. Les Caid is the Fire Chief from Rio Rico Fire.

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