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Osceola County program aims to reduce ER visits

By Naseem S. Miller, Orlando Sentinel

November 28, 2015

With the launch of a new program called Phone2Home, the Osceola County health department is taking advantage of the role of EMTs and paramedics to curb unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

Through their database and 911 visits, the fire/rescue team helps identify individuals who visit emergency rooms frequently or are in need of medical or social services and connects them with the health department.

"I've been getting calls from people who need assistance for primary care, prescriptions, food, domestic abuse … it really runs the whole gamut," said Kimberly Knight, the Phone2Home coordinator at the health department.

Officials hope that the program will save dollars by reducing the number of unnecessary 911 calls, reduce ER visits and free up the EMS team for more critical medical or fire emergencies.

The program also puts Osceola County on the map with the growing number of communities around the nation that are developing similar, and sometimes more involved, programs by extending the role of firefighters.

Satellite Beach in Brevard County, for instance, has had a community paramedic program in place since 2008. The program connects paramedics to elderly residents who need regular check-ups.

"We give [patients] an iPad with cellular data, we provide them with wireless blood pressure cuffs and give them a glucometer if they're diabetic," said Don Hughes, fire chief at Satellite Beach Fire Department.

The program, which is mostly sustained by the community's support, has helped reduce elderly falls and hip fractures by 40 percent and has reduced the community's hospital readmission rates below the state average.

Phone2Home came about when Osceola County administrator Belinda Johnson-Cornett and a few other local leaders applied for a grant to make an impact on the community. They used Satellite Beach's program as a model and inspiration.

"The goal is to develop [Phone2Home] to a program where some services are provided by the paramedics," said Johnson-Cornett.

For now Knight either calls patients who are referred by the fire/rescue team or gets calls from residents, some of whom have heard about the service through the word of mouth.

"I love helping people, and this program is starting to be rewarding," said Knight.

If you live in Osceola County and need medical or social services, you can call 407-944-7163.

nmiller@tribune.com or 407-420-5158.

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