Paramedic unit will start in-home visits for COPD patients

Sussex County Emergency Medical Services joins in partnership with Beebe Healthcare
August 19, 2019

Sussex County and Beebe Healthcare in Lewes have embarked on an innovative memorandum of understanding targeted at helping patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from having to return to the hospital after being discharged.

Under the mobile integrated healthcare pilot program, a specially trained Sussex County paramedic unit will make home visits to repeat COPD patients recently discharged from Beebe.

During a presentation at Sussex County Council's Aug. 13 meeting, Robbie Murray, deputy director of Sussex County Emergency Medical Services administration, said about 30 percent of local COPD patients return to the hospital or emergency room within 30 days of discharge.

“Paramedics in their homes can help reduce costly readmissions. We want to reach them before another call to 911 is made,” he said. “Our goal is to cut that number by 30 percent, and to improve the quality of life for these patients.”

The unit, made up of two primary paramedics and one alternate paramedic, will provide in-home outreach and patient education, including smoking cessation, proper drug use and use of a nebulizer. The unit will interact with Beebe Population Health and Beebe Advanced Care Clinic to address any other unmet health needs.

If the unit encounters a patient ill enough to require emergency care or transportation to an emergency room, it will activate the 911 system through the county emergency operations center.

The paramedics will work two days a week in the pilot program and continue to work their normal schedule when not assigned to the unit. After a year, the program will be evaluated.

Beebe staff assigned to the program will provide oversight and patients will be enrolled through Beebe. Under the agreement, the unit will respond within 24 to 48 hours.

The unit will cover the area in the 19966 zip code, which includes Millsboro and Long Neck. Murray said that area has been identified as the location with the most COPD and respiratory patients.

Murray said if the program is successful, a change in state law may be required. He said current law does not allow for nonemergency intervention by EMS staff. However, the memorandum signed by county and Beebe officials and Division of Public Health and Delaware Department of Health and Social Services officials allows for a one-year pilot program.

Murray said he's hopeful the program can be expanded to interact with other patients including those who are high-fall risk and those suffering from congestive heart failure. “Our first step is seeing this pilot through, demonstrate that we can meet our goals and then explore other opportunities,” Murray said.

Funding for the program has come from two grants, Murray said, including $61,500 from Discover Bank and $31,200 from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. Murray said Beebe Healthcare is committed to covering any funding gaps as the project progresses. He said taxpayer funds will not be used to run the program.

Rick Schaffner, interim Beebe Healthcare president and CEO, said, “These are the types of partnerships that make healthcare work in the community.”

County council approved the memorandum by a 4-1 vote with Councilman Sam Wilson of Georgetown voting against it.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the amount of the grant from Jessie Ball duPont Fund and to correct the name of the fund.