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Program Sends Firefighters On Medical House Calls

Stephanie Sanchez

Emergency rooms across the nation are busy. Many visits are for non-life threatening conditions and can be costly. A program in Yuma County wants to prevent unnecessary ER visits by bringing back an old idea--house calls made by the local fire department.

Carlos Correa jumps inside the Somerton-Cocopah Fire Department fire truck and calls dispatch. Two other crew members follow along in an ambulance. Emergency lights and sirens are off. Everyone is relaxed.

"We are going to the house of Eloida Montez and see how she is doing," Correa says.

Montez has diabetes, pre-hypertension and suffers from anxiety. She's a patient a local clinic and participates  in a program for people with chronic health problems. With that, she gets these visits twice a month.

Carlos Correa checks her vitals with help from firefighters Jim Radzik and Steve Clark. They are all recently trained paramedics.

"So far her blood pressure has been within the range but they want it to be a little under 120 now," Correa says. "She will be considered pre-hypertension."

If Correa finds anything that concerns him, he'll call the clinic, the Regional Center for Border Health.

"It's nice," says Eloida Montez. "They check everything, my sugar, my pressure, I like it."

The paramedics also check smoke alarms and look for safety hazards. They'll even change light bulbs. The goal is to address any issues that could send Montez to the emergency room.

Jim Radzik gives the OK.

"She is doing well and yeah, her place looks good," Radzik said.

This is the only program in Yuma County that send first responders on scheduled home visits. The idea came from Fire Chief Paul De Anda who read about similar programs  in a trade magazine.

"You're not responding to someone that is already in a problem," De Anda says. "You're getting there before the problem exists and you're fixing it."

But first, De Anda had to get his firefighters trained. The Regional Center for Border Health offered to provide classes. Now, almost all of his 15 firefighters are paramedics who visit more than 30 people in the program twice a month.

And the only cost to the city of Somerton is the mileage.

72-year old Martha DeSantiago is the final stop of the day. She has diabetes, hypertension, asthma and high cholesterol. She spreads out her eight medications on the kitchen table for the paramedics.

" I have been feeling good despite my diabates," DeSantiago tells the paramedics in Spanish. "I like the visits and I feel like I'm almost 15 years old."

But crew member Jim Radzik notices DeSantiago has an irregular heartbeat.

"She does have a history of that so we'll just note it and refer it back to the clinic to make sure they're aware of it," he says. " She is also taking three different medications for blood pressure and we'll highlight that to make sure they want her on three separate medications."

It's too soon to tell what impact these house calls will have on patients in the long-term. The program is less than a year old.

But the home visits make a big difference to Martha DeSantiago.

"I feel very loved and very well taken care of," DeSantiago tells KAWC in Spanish. "They're practically family for me when they come visit."

Credit Stephanie Sanchez
Somerton-Cocopah Fire Department firefighter and paramedic Jim Radzik checks Martha DeSantiago's blood pressure during a medical house call.

Credit Stephanie Sanchez
Paramedic Jim Radzik counts the prescribed medical pills for Martha DeSantiago.

Credit Stephanie Sanchez
Eloida Montez, a patient with the Regional Center for Border Health, gets her blood pressure checked from paramedic Carlos Correa.

Credit Stephanie Sanchez
Somerton-Cocopah Fire Department sends its firefighter/paramedics on medical house calls for the chronically ill.

Credit Stephanie Sanchez
The team sent by the Somerton-Cocopah Fire Department also check smoke alarms and look for safety hazards in the homes of their patients.

Credit Stephanie Sanchez
Somerton-Cocopah Fire Department Firefighter and paramedic Carlos Correa drives fire engine number one to a scheduled home visit. The patients participate in a community program created by the Regional Center for Border Health and the fire station.