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Community Paramedic program improving lives of patients with heart failure

Community paramedic program

In September, Lola Hopkins’ sudden shortness of breath, growing fatigue and unexplained weight gains and losses led her doctor to admit her to Ascension Via Christi St. Teresa.

While there, she learned the cause of her troubling symptoms: Heart failure.

“Hearing that term was kind of scary,” says the 84-year-old retired bookkeeper, even with the education provided by her cardiologist and the staff during her brief hospital stay. “It was all a bit overwhelming.”

To help make it less so, Via Christi, in partnership with Sedgwick County EMS, has a program designed to help patients like Lola learn to better manage their disease at home – and reduce their risk for needing future visits to the ER and re-admissions.

Funded by an Ascension innovation acceleration grant, Via Christi’s Community Paramedic program is a simple concept that in a few short months is making a big impact in the lives of patients with heart failure.

It works like this:

  • Sedgwick County community paramedic T.J. Popp contacts patients to schedule a home visit within the first 72 hours of their discharge from the hospital.
  • Following his initial visit, Popp — together with the Via Christi Heart Failure Disease Management team — works with these patients over the next 30 days to ensure that they understand and have the resources they need to follow their discharge instructions and manage their disease on a daily basis.

“Since the program’s launch on Aug. 1, we’ve helped approximately 80 patients and continue to receive new patients every day,” says Popp. “The earlier they get the support they need, the fewer trips they have to make to the hospital.”

In fact, only one of the first 35 program participants has required readmission to the hospital within the first 60 days of leaving the hospital and that was for a condition not related to heart failure.

There’s no charge for the community paramedic visits, which in addition to improving their quality of life, save the patients time and money.

“In Lola’s case, she was doing a lot of things right already,” says Popp. “So during her home visit, I just reinforced much of what she already knew.”

Even so, it was helpful to be able to review with Popp what she needed to do in order to continue her recovery: Cut down on her salt, closely monitor her weight, take her blood pressure medicine and diuretic as directed, and make a regular exercise a habit.

“He was so easy to talk to and he explained everything in terms we could understand,” says Lola, who is now putting her stationary bike to regular use.

“After just a few days, I could tell the difference,” she says, providing the motivation needed to keep it up.

Charity Clark, manager of Transitional Care for Via Christi’s Wichita hospitals, says the initiative complements other innovative programs and services designed to reduce re-admissions by patients living with chronic disease: an outpatient clinic staffed by a multidisciplinary team that specializes in caring for patients with heart failure and a Community Cares program that provides home-based care to patients with chronic lung disease.

“Through this new partnership, we’re able to provide patient support immediately following their return home from the hospital and identify and address any barriers to their recovery before they become an issue,” says Clark. 

Innovative programs like these are completely aligned with Ascension’s mission and focus on vulnerable populations.

“Via Christi’s Community Paramedic program is an opportunity to improve the health of communities while learning how to serve people where they want to be  in their own environment,” says Chris Young, Ascension’s vice president of New Market Development and Incubations.

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.