Firefighter/EMT Daniel Montana loads medical equipment in a Port Angeles Fire Department utility vehicle that he uses in place of a full-sized ambulance to cover non-emergency 9-1-1 calls in this file photo from Sept. 13, 2019. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News file)

Firefighter/EMT Daniel Montana loads medical equipment in a Port Angeles Fire Department utility vehicle that he uses in place of a full-sized ambulance to cover non-emergency 9-1-1 calls in this file photo from Sept. 13, 2019. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News file)

Health care navigator project gets boost

Community Paramedicine program helps those in need, saves money

PORT ANGELES — What began as a pilot project to help those who struggle to navigate the health care system has been given extended life.

The Port Angeles City Council approved Tuesday agreements with Olympic Medical Center, North Olympic Healthcare Network and Peninsula Behavioral Health to support the city’s Community Paramedicine program through 2020 and beyond.

The memorandums of agreement will help fund one full-time firefighter/paramedic — Daniel Montana — who assists those who repeatedly call 9-1-1 for non-emergency services or who need to be connected to an appropriate provider.

“This is a great example of how collaboration can make things so much better,” Port Angeles Mayor Kate Dexter told OMC, NOHN and PBH officials before the vote.

“I’m grateful that we’re working together on this.”

Pilot program

Montana, a 20-year firefighter, was taken off his regular duties in January 2019 to become a dedicated community paramedic in a pilot program introduced by Fire Chief Ken Dubuc.

Montana provides a range of services to heavy users of the 9-1-1 system and others referred by health care providers and community volunteers.

He checks vital signs, provides wound care, administers medications, assesses general health and living conditions, reviews medication regimens and makes referrals for needed services.

“It has been extraordinarily effective,” Dubuc told the council Tuesday.

“We found that on average, a person who is met by the community paramedic once, we reduce their future use of the 9-1-1 system by up to 58 percent and we reduce their use of the emergency department by up to 68 percent.

“We’re talking about people who would frequently call 9-1-1 anywhere from 30 to 200 times a year, and we’re getting them to use it zero times after that,” Dubuc added.

“Those are incredible numbers.”

Wrap-around services

In a Wednesday interview, Montana said the goal is to provide wrap-around services for patients.

“In order to do that, we all kind of have to be sitting around the table,” Montana said. “It takes teamwork.”

Montana gave an example of a recent contact in which a woman who had fallen and fractured her hip was soon being visited by nurses at her home.

“Ultimately, I want the program to be whatever the community needs it to be,” Montana said in a telephone interview.

Dubuc said Montana had “truly turned around the lives of dozens and dozens of people in this community.”

“He’s gotten them, with the help of our partners, to the places where they need to be, and it’s been incredibly successful,” Dubuc told the City Council.

The council-approved agreement with OMC will provide $25,000 for Community Paramedicine in each of the next four years.

North Olympic Healthcare Network will make annual payments of $10,000 through 2023.

Peninsula Behavioral Health will provide $10,000 in 2020. Further contributions will be negotiated, according to the memorandum of agreement.

Dubuc said the city firefighters’ union agreed to take one firefighter/paramedic off the line to provide the service.

He added that the first six months of the program resulted in dramatic reductions in emergency calls and costly admissions to the OMC emergency room.

In an August report, Dubuc said the pilot program had saved $95,536 in its first six months.

It costs the city about $95,000 per year to backfill a full-time position to allow Montana to continue to work as a dedicated community paramedic.

Program works well

“We’ve proved that the program not only worked, it worked well in excess of our wildest dreams,” Dubuc said.

City Council member Mike French thanked the partner agencies, calling Tuesday a “big day for Port Angeles.”

“We saw the value and the benefit of the Community Paramedicine program really quickly,” said French, an early proponent of the program.

“To see a long-term sustainable path for the program I think is going to be a real game-changer for our community and for those vulnerable populations that kind of are, unfortunately, falling through the cracks.”

Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said quality-of-life improvements were at the core of the program.

He added that direct cost savings can be achieved by “going upstream.”

“This is a no brainer,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

“It saves money. It helps people, and yet it’s a challenge to fund it. So I think that gets to some larger issues in how we do this process of governance that we need to address beyond the scope of our conversation here.

“In so many areas that we’re working, whether it’s paramedicine, whether it’s housing, whatever it is, going upstream is way more cost effective,” Schromen-Wawrin added, “and yet it’s way harder for us to do, and that just doesn’t make sense.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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