Elgin hospital first to offer paramedic home visits
Tim Youngberg gained nine pounds in one week, not surprising because fluid retention is a symptom of his chronic renal failure. Otherwise, his vital signs, EKG, blood work and overall health checkup turned out fine, Advocate Sherman Hospital paramedic Ken Snow said.
The setting for Youngberg's checkup? His home in Elgin, where Snow paid him a visit Monday. It was such a pleasant, warm day that the visit took place in the front yard.
"I think it's great," said Youngberg, who was scheduled for dialysis the next day to address the fluid retention. "I never had a follow-up like this in any of the other places I've been (for health care). I don't drive anymore, so this works great for me."
Sherman is the first hospital in the state approved to offer mobile integrated health care -- or services outside the hospital environment -- via on-staff paramedics, Illinois Department of Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. In addition, five hospitals in Rockford, Peoria and Champaign have teamed with local fire departments and ambulance services to provide the mobile service, she said.
The Sherman program consists of weekly home visits for 30 days for certain patients who've been discharged from the hospital. The goal? Try to avoid patients getting readmitted, Snow said.
Eligible are patients who survived heart attacks or who suffer from pneumonia, diabetes, asthma, heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Youngberg suffers from the latter three conditions and was discharged from the hospital earlier this month.
The program launched in late December. Patients can participate in the free program regardless of their insurance status, said Snow, who runs the program along with a part-time paramedic.
"We go over the discharge plan, we go over the medications. I do an assessment and I do some education with them so they understand their condition and help them manage their condition at home," he said. "After, I report back to their primary care physicians."
Mobile integrated health care is new in Illinois but has gained popularity in Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona and California, Snow said.
A special committee spent about two years developing a mobile integrated health plan for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said committee co-chairman Valerie Phillips. The department's emergency medical services advisory council approved the pilot plan last year, she said.
National data shows the mobile care helps prevent hospital readmissions, especially in areas where people have limited access to health care, or where traditional home health services are limited, Phillips said.
"One of our early concerns was, 'Is this project looking to replace traditional home health care?' And the answer is, 'Absolutely not,'" Phillips said. "This is looking, in Illinois, to fill the gap for persons who aren't either eligible for home health services, or refused home health services for various reasons, or perhaps don't have the funding for it. It's a niche service."
Twenty-two patients have participated in the Sherman program so far, Snow said. Of those, 10 have "graduated," meaning they stayed out of the hospital for 30 days after discharge; two patients were readmitted, while the others dropped out for various reasons.
That's a 9 percent 30-day readmission rate for the program, compared to 12 percent among such at-risk patients in 2015, according to data provided by Sherman.
"Early results indicate that patients who commit to this free program are highly likely to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations," said Tina Link, director of community outreach for the hospital. "The more patients we are able to visit, the more we learn about potential barriers that may impact a patient's ability to successfully complete the program, and we're working to remove those as we go."
The first graduate was Martha Baker, 78, of Huntley, who had a pacemaker inserted in December.
"I appreciated it so much," she said. "(Snow) is such a nice young man. I really enjoyed talking with him, and him running all the tests that he ran. Them coming to me was just a godsend."
The program is already working in making him more accountable for his own health, Youngberg said.
He is following Snow's instructions to keep daily logs of his blood sugar levels, which he checks four times a day. He also plans to start weighing himself daily using a scale that Snow gave him Monday.
"I appreciate the whole program. It's something that is very cool," he said. "I needed it. It's going to help me out in the long run."