Health News

Sep 11, 2012 3:59 PM by Lauren Molenburg

Minnesota trains 'community paramedics' to fill gap

PARK RAPIDS, Minnesota (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 Tuesday. 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.

"We'll work in conjunction with the doctors from the ER or clinic," class participant and veteran paramedic Brent 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.

"They're using the ER as their primary care physician," said Johnson, who's been a paramedic for eight years. "Hopefully we'll be able to pull those people out of the emergency care system and get them back into the primary care system."

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.

Mark Shoenbaum, director of the department's office of rural health and primary care, said the models for how community paramedics will be deployed will take time to develop. But he predicted they will be an important part of the health care system in the future.

"Minnesota is facing a health workforce shortage, so we need all hands on deck, and community paramedics have a definite place in that solution," Shoenbaum said.

Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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