Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital, Merrill, 2021 Community Benefit

Merrill Community Paramedic Program Adapts to Meet Needs of COVID-19 Pandemic

Merrill Fire Department Battalion Chief and EMT-Paramedic Phillip Skoug makes a patient home visit to provide COVID follow-up care as a part of the CPP.
As the COVID-19 pandemic grew to record-high cases in Merrill, local health care professionals came up with a plan to fight it by expanding a Community Paramedicine Program (CPP) that has been in place since 2018. 
The CPP program from Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital and the Merrill Fire Department features paramedics conducting patient home visits focused on those who were discharged from Ascension Good Samaritan with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Congestive Heart Failure, or Pneumonia. 
Patients who enrolled in the free CPP were contacted by the fire department, and an initial appointment was scheduled at their home within one week of leaving the hospital. The first two years of the program were very successful, with not one patient being readmitted to the hospital within a month. 
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country early in 2020, the CPP referrals dwindled until October, when things drastically changed. Around that time, Ascension Good Samaritan and other hospitals in the region and across the state were nearing capacity. 
“Knowing that there were patients who typically would be admitted for observation for progression of COVID-19, we began discussing possible alternatives as cases continued to rise in the community,” said Jonathon Matuszewski, chief administrative officer at Ascension Good Samaritan. 
As a result of this discussion, it was determined that many of the patients who presented in the emergency department with COVID-19 symptoms required oxygen and additional monitoring but could remain in the comfort of their own home. 
The Ascension Good Samaritan team decided to reach out to the Merrill Fire Department to see if the CPP program could be expanded to include these COVID-19 patients. To accomplish this, an ad hoc committee was formed to connect the necessary hospital departments and fire department personnel.
“The committee collaborated weekly and quickly developed protocols to address the need for lower acuity COVID-19 patients to remain safely at home with the help of the CPP program,” said Michael Clark, MD, emergency department physician and medical director of emergency medical services (EMS) at Ascension Good Samaritan. “This would in turn reduce admissions to the hospital and ensure available beds were being utilized by higher acuity patients who really needed hospitalization.” 
“Not surprisingly, Merrill firefighters embraced the additional responsibilities and became an integral part of the solution, addressing the unique situation caused by the pandemic,” said Merrill Fire Chief Josh Klug. “I am very proud that our staff answered the call for help and are fulfilling the first part of our mission by preventing harm in the community.” 
“So far we have met our intended goal of reducing COVID-19-related hospital admissions and improving patient outcomes,” said Dr. Clark. “The CPP program represents the first steps in expanding the role of EMS professionals from primarily response and treatment to more complete medical support to the community, to help prevent medical emergency conditions from occurring.” Committee members are pleased with the results so far, knowing how important it has been to the Merrill community. 
The CPP is funded through an annual grant of $20,000 from Ascension Good Samaritan. 
On August 1, hospitals and clinics of Ascension Wisconsin in central and northern Wisconsin became part of Aspirus.