“Community Paramedics:” Program involves first responders visiting patients at home in Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE -- A change in the health care field is expanding the role of EMTs, in an effort to get more care to more people.

When we think of paramedics, we usually think of fast-moving men and women performing life-saving procedures with screaming sirens and bright lights as a backdrop.

But that is changing.

Captain Michael Wright has been with the Milwaukee Fire Department for nearly 17 years. Fighting fires is only part of his job. He is also one of nearly 200 paramedics in the department.

MFD "Community Paramedics" visits Henrietta

MFD "Community Paramedics" visits Henrietta

FOX6 News was on hand as Captain Wright went out on a call. Henrietta visited the emergency room because her blood pressure dropped to a dangerously low level. It was up to Henrietta to maintain a medical regime at home -- and Captain Wright was visiting Henrietta to help out with that.

"We find out what conditions they`re suffering from and we have an in-depth discussion with them to say 'this is what`s really going on in your body' -- on their level, and it really seems to make a difference. We look at ourselves as helping the patient navigate the health care system and helping them understand their disease processes," Captain Wright said.

The program, called "Community Paramedics" is sending first responders out on house calls. They treat patients who may not meet home nursing requirements, or who do not have easy access to a hospital.

Community Paramedics

Community Paramedics

"This program didn`t exist five months ago. We interviewed paramedics, which typically has about 1,500 hours of training. It's 250 to 300 hours of training to learn how to manage people in a non-emergency environment," Captain Wright said.

Staying out of the ER saves money, but there's another upside.

MFD "Community Paramedics" visits Henrietta

MFD "Community Paramedics" visits Henrietta

"We never get to know that patients, because of the time frame -- so I really wanted to see that same type of interaction from myself, see if we could replicate it here. Our goal is find out exactly what you need and point you in the right direction of the existing resources," Captain Wright said.

Captain Wright saw firsthand how this program is closing the gap when it comes to health care in other cities.

When he got approval to start the program in Milwaukee, he accepted the challenge.

By his account, it has been rewarding and at times, disheartening.

MFD "Community Paramedics" visits Henrietta

MFD "Community Paramedics" visits Henrietta

"There`s a part of it that`s tougher because you do get to know exactly how bad things are for a patient, other than just a real short burst of what`s going on with them," Captain Wright said.

During the visit with Henrietta, the necessities were pulled out of the trunk -- including medical equipment and a step stool. These visits always involve a home safety check. Paramedics check smoke detectors and look for places in the home where patients could be at risk.

"Ms. Hobb`s blood pressure was pretty low, so I know she`s anxious. You said you were still in pain," Captain Wright said.

MFD "Community Paramedics" visits Henrietta

MFD "Community Paramedics" visits Henrietta

"I'm in a lot of pain," Henrietta said.

"When was the last time you went to the pain management clinic?" Captain Wright asked.

"Yesterday," Henrietta said.

"Okay, good. Then they know," Captain Wright said.

Typically, four of these "at home visits" are scheduled.

FOX6 News was on hand for the third visit at Henrietta's home. It was determined that she was in good shape, so the next visit would be her last.

"Good and sad, because I`m not going to see them no more. They brought joy to me," Henrietta said.

Henrietta received a certificate for her participation in this program.

As for the costs, it is covered by the city of Milwaukee.

Down the road, the goal is to create partnerships to help defray some of the cost, as it seems likely this program will only continue to grow.