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2012 October 1 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : Minn. Trains ‘Community Paramedics’ To Fill Gap

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota is pushing to train a few hundred “community paramedics,” a new kind of health care provider intended to make up for the lack of doctors and nurses in rural areas.

Once certified, community paramedics can deal with a variety of non-emergency situations that might otherwise result in expensive trips to emergency rooms.

Minnesota is the first state in the country to establish the new classification under law, Minnesota Public Radio reported. It said some officials hope as many as 20 percent of the state’s 2,200 paramedics will obtain the certification.

The concept developed in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where paramedics help treat non-emergency cases to prevent health issues from becoming more serious. Their services can include visiting a home to check on someone who’s had surgery or perhaps checking on a patient at home who’s dealing with a chronic condition like diabetes, heart disease or respiratory illness.

Minnesota has trained a few community paramedics already and another six-month class of 24 began last week, taught by an instructor in a classroom at Hennepin Technical College. About half of the students are in the Twin Cities and the rest participate remotely from communities in rural Minnesota. A few out-of-state students are participating from Idaho and North Dakota.

Taking the course from Park Rapids is 14-year veteran paramedic Brent Haynes, who will work with county public health officials to identify gaps in the health care system where a community paramedic might help.

Haynes, who works for North Memorial Ambulance Service, said he envisions working frequently with patients in their homes, doing basic health assessments, collecting lab specimens and performing minor medical procedures.

“We’ll work in conjunction with the doctors from the ER or clinic,” Haynes said. “They will assign us. ... If we find there is something lacking in the environment or their capability to deal with themselves, we’ll look for a solution.”

Patients frequently call 911 for things that aren’t emergencies, said Christy Johnson, another Park Rapids paramedic taking the class.

Rural emergency medical service providers have struggled financially because paramedics often have a lot of down time between runs. Supporters say community paramedics will open new revenue streams to make those companies more viable.

The Minnesota Department of Health provides grants to help urban as well as rural counties train and integrate community paramedics into their regional health systems.

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