Year after year, too many Longboat Key residents fall and can’t get up.
No joke. It’s a serious problem.
“People have come to rely on 911 for everything,” said Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi. “As is expected, due to our demographics, we respond to more EMS incidents than fire incidents. Our No. 1 medical call involves falls.”
That’s one of the reasons why Dezzi wants to launch a community paramedicine pilot program he calls CARE, or Community Assistance Resource & Education.
He won unanimous support Monday during a commission workshop. The request moves to the Jan. 9 Town Commission meeting for a first reading.
CARE is designed to answer health care calls and questions, especially repeat calls from residents with no support network, Dezzi said. It is for island residents only — not visitors.
Under CARE, patients discharged from Sarasota Memorial Hospital after treatment for strokes, diabetes, cardiac issues or orthopedic injuries will be asked if they want to participate. The program is also available to Longboat residents in Manatee County, there just is no referral from the hospitals there under this pilot program.
Once participants are registered, the fire department will call them to check up on them and determine when and if visits to check their health are necessary.
For example, paramedics will cover everything from whom residents should call for medical issues if they need follow-up care, to whether their home needs slip-resistant strips to prevent falls.
Participants may be visited once a week and “graduate” after 30 days once they have been plugged into the appropriate care services. The program’s primary goal is to establish a health care support network for any participant within 30 days, Dezzi said.
CARE is also necessary because fighting fires is not what keeps the Longboat Key Fire Rescue hopping. Emergency medical assistance calls do.
In 2015, Fire Rescue went on 403 fire calls and had 1,035 emergency medical services calls.
“Most of our calls are medical calls from people who are in their elder years,” said Lt. Jason Berzowski, 38, one of the paramedics who will be assigned to meet with patients. “This program will help shift those calls to wellness checks.”
Dezzi said his $4 million budget won’t take a hit to run the project because everyone on his 33-member staff is a paramedic, which he said is a rarity for any fire department.
“The only cost is the fuel driving to and from a patient’s location,” Dezzi said. “We are not charging for the service. We simply are using on-duty personnel to assist with an additional program aimed at making Longboat Key a healthier place to live.”
Berzowski said he isn’t worried the project will add too much to the workloads of Longboat Key firefighters.
“Everything is learning process,” he said. “You adjust as needed. We’ll figure it out.”