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GVFD Chiefs Head to D.C. to Talk Up Local Program

Two Green Valley Fire District chiefs head to the nation’s capital next month, hoping to convince the heavy hitters in health care that a local program could save the country billions of dollars.

In Green Valley alone, savings from a new program where nurse practitioners treat non-emergency medical conditions that might otherwise be transported to a hospital has saved about a half-million dollars in less than a year. GVFD’s program saw 170 patients in its first 10 months; officials aim to serve at least five patients per day in its second year, which in the five days per week it operates could translate to 1,300 patients per year, and a net annual savings to the local system of nearly $2.7 million. That’s based on average ambulance/emergency bill of $2,500, and an average nurse practitioner program charge of $425.

Multiply that by every aid-providing entity in the country with a similar program and the numbers could well be staggering.
Information about how the district got the program going and the research behind it will be shared by Battalion Chief Dan Modrzejewski and Community Services Chief Katie Sayre at the annual Aging in America Conference presented by the American Society on Aging in Washington, D.C., March 23.

“We are presenting the whys and hows of our program and hope to catch the attention of some of the big hitters that attend, including Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Center for Disease Control and/or National Institute of Health, among others,” Sayre said.

It took a bit longer to launch the program, formally known as Fire-Based Urgent Medical Services, than initially thought. District staff learned as it went, calling for changes in as it developed. Applying, responding to reviews, then waiting for required credentialing alone took several months. Staff has also changed, as officials realized the program would better with several part-timers rather than one full-timer who would be unavailable during vacations or illness, Sayre told Green Valley Council’s Health & Human Services Committee last week.

Statistics relating to the program use are estimates, largely due to refining during development, Sayre said.

“I will say that a typical run to the hospital to rule out a problem can cost between $2,500 (and) $3,000 and we saved 170 patients from having to do that last year, so that alone is a savings of $425,000 (to) $510,000 to the system for what would have been an unnecessary emergency department visit,” she said.

Billed charges run $350 to 500 for an in-home visit, so figuring an average of $425, that total billed cost for that same 170 people would be $72,250, for a net savings to the system of $352,750, using the lower of the potential ambulance/emergency room charges.

“If we can run the program effectively and actually bring in revenue, this could be an additional source of revenue for fire departments across the country while providing a more appropriate level of care, especially in retiree communities,” she said.

District leadership earmarked $120,000 in its $8.8 million budget to get the program running and staffed, and plans to fund it again for the coming year. Budget planning begins in earnest soon, with a draft due for the GVFD board in April.

One of the program’s lingering challenges is making the community aware of its availability; mostly its message through word of mouth, as many Green Valley residents don’t have a computer or other means to learn about it, Sayre noted.

NPs in the program make house calls to address urgent medical care until a patient can see their own physician, and are also qualified to help patients manage medication and prescriptions. Conditions they treat include mild respiratory problems, dehydration, diarrhea, minor wound infections, simple fractures; mild burns, rashes and cuts requiring stitches; moderate back pain, and tests for strep and flu.

The national aging conference involves nearly 3,000 professionals who meet to discuss various issues affecting seniors, share ideas, knowledge, learn from experts and gain new perspectives.

Locals have taken part in past conferences; in 2012, Sayre and two staffers from Valley Assistance Services shared details about the Safety and Health in Motion (SHiM) program, aimed at preventing falls and related injuries involving older adults. Statistics show that one in three adults 65 and older fall each year, and up to 30 percent of those who fall will suffer severe injuries or death.

Kitty Bottemiller | 547-9732