Pilot program sends firefighters to patient homes for check-ins


Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital is testing out a pilot program that will send firefighters to the homes of recently-discharged patients to make sure they're doing OK.

Sometimes, in all the hustle and bustle of leaving the hospital, patients may not fully understand discharge instructions; but because they're eager to get home they'll say they understand anyway, according to the Star Tribune.

For some, not understanding what to do could result in a return to the hospital. That, along with avoidable emergency situations, is what the program is trying to prevent, according to the Sun Sailor.

So, with the patient's consent, a firefighter will go to their home the day after they're discharged to make sure everything is going smoothly. They'll follow up on medication questions, a patient's symptoms and note any red flags, the Star Tribune says.

The pilot program will likely begin in May at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. Firefighters in Edina, Minneapolis, Richfield, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Hopkins will all participate, the Star Tribune says. Fairview Southdale Hospital is also discussing a similar house-call program, the newspaper says.

Recently, firefighters did a test run of the program, which is aptly named post-discharge firefighter visit, and visited a 90-year-old woman who was discharged from the hospital after a bout of bronchitis. Firefighters took her blood pressure, talked about her new medication, checked her smoke detectors and even made sure there weren't any rugs that she could trip on, the Star Tribune says.

Most of fire department's 911 calls are medical, and some of them are from people who are just out of the hospital. That's why St. Louis Park Fire Chief Steve Koering pitched the idea of a house-call program to Methodist Hospital, the Star Tribune reports.

“They’re unsure, or lonely, scared and confused, and the ambulance [and fire truck] comes out,” Koering told the Star Tribune. “If somebody could come out [the first day after discharge] and see them and see what they need, it would make them feel safer in their house.”

And hopefully avoid a return to the hospital. Plus firefighters are naturals for the job – most are already EMTs, KSTP says.

"It's good for the fire service, it's good for public safety, it's good for the citizens of Minnesota," Chris Parson of the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters told KSTP.

Studies show that 20 percent of Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within a month of discharge, and now as part of the Affordable Care Act, hospitals could see Medicare reimbursements cut if certain patients return to the hospital for the same reason within 30 days, the Star Tribune and Sun Sailor report. In response to this, many hospitals are devising what they call “readmission reduction programs," which would be similar to the firefighter house-call program, the Star Tribune says.

Park Nicollet says its program is not in response to changes in federal law, according to the Star Tribune.

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