EAGLE, Colorado - Since it officially launched June 1, Western Eagle County Ambulance District's Community Paramedics program has received national attention.
The Eagle Valley Enterprise ran a story on the futuristic program in July 2010, and since then, the Associated Press, New York Times and MSNBC have come to Eagle County to see for themselves.
"It's crazy how the idea has blown up," said Lisa Ward, the Community Paramedics coordinator. "When you have a program that is proving to be successful, everyone wants to know how you've done it."
In a nutshell, the program is intended to be an extension of primary medical care. After receiving doctor referrals, specially trained paramedics can now visit patients at their homes.
The goal is preventative care. Tasks for community paramedics include taking vital signs, drawing blood, giving shots, changing bandages and - perhaps most importantly - keeping tabs on how patients are caring for themselves at home.
"We are an extension of the physician," said Kevin Creek, one of the county's two community paramedics. "A doctor doesn't see how a patient is at home, but we do."
Creek writes a detailed report for every visit he makes. He observes patients' health habits, such as how they appear to be eating, and does home safety checks.
WECAD Chief Chris Montera said two goals of the Community Paramedics are to reduce hospital readmission rates by 50 percent and to ensure all patients have a "medical home" (primary-care physician).
It's a new idea - something in high demand during a time when the nation is reconsidering its health care system. The hope is that programs such as Community Paramedics will eventually save money, as well as lives.
"Agencies all over the U.S. and Colorado want it, and they want it yesterday," Ward said.
That's why Colorado Mountain College is offering a new "pilot class" in Edwards. More than 100 students across the country are enrolled to become community paramedics. The course was developed in a partnership with North Central EMS Institute in Minnesota and is mostly conducted online. There are six mandatory classes, however, which means some students will be traveling to Edwards to attend on those occasions.
Prerequisites for the course include two years of experience as a paramedic, among other things. Since it is a "pilot class," Ward pointed out that the curriculum available to the public on www.community
paramedic.org is not the latest one.
"The public would see the old one online," she said. "The pilot curriculum is only available to students taking the class."
Meanwhile, WECAD recently applied for a new grant, along with six other agencies, that is specific to setting up a community paramedic program in Colorado. Further illustrating the interest in the program is the fact that a handbook WECAD published online has been downloaded more than 600 times from all over the world.
"While I can't statistically say the program is proven to be successful from a monetary standpoint - it's too early - I can say we have helped the community access health care," Ward said.
WECAD community paramedics have had 22 patients and 52 patient visits since they started in June.
Creek said the doctors in the area are still forgetting that they have the community paramedic option for some of their patients.
"We want more local awareness," Ward said. "People here still don't know what I do. We've gained all this national attention, but this program is intended for our community."
To learn more about WECAD Community Paramedics, visit www.wecadems.com/
cp.html or call 970-524-1689.