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Rachael Zeitler and Melissa Haney of Mercy Flights’ “Integrated Mobile Health” program monitor calls from a Mercy Flights response vehicle in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Mercy Flights and Ashland Fire & Rescue team up for “integrated mobile health” services in Ashland, Talent and Phoenix. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Mercy Flights’ “Mobile Integrated Health” Program Expands to Cover Ashland, Talent and Phoenix

Another kind of health care comes to the south end of the valley.

With a $75,000 grant from the Ashland Community Hospital Foundation, Ashland Fire and Rescue is partnering with Mercy Flights to provide what is called “integrated mobile health” services in Ashland, Talent and Phoenix.

Mobile Integrated Health is a combination of an old-fashioned home visit with social work and community service. Those who need urgent medical attention, but are not in life-threatening condition, can call MIH instead of 911.

The MIH program has operated in the Medford area for the past six years, largely due to referrals from paramedics. First responders refer frequent callers or vulnerable patients to the MIH program with a “warm hand” as often as possible.

The patients who benefit the most from the program are often elderly or disabled, and some with mental health issues may be slow to trust, emergency workers say.

The program works best, said Ashland Deputy Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Marshal Rasor, when MIH personnel can be present at the orientation and introduced to the patient by paramedics they already know – what is called a “warm hand”.

Until now, the Mercy Flights program did not have enough staff to make this critical transfer of trust possible in the Ashland region. Rasor said that when his department tried to rely on the program, it sometimes took a day or two before MIH staff could reach the person.

The $75,000 grant from the Ashland Community Hospital Foundation will pay for a sixth full-time staff member for Mercy Flights’ existing mobile integrated health program, reducing response time and increasing efficiency for Ashland , Talent and Phoenix.

In addition to helping vulnerable people avoid a costly trip of up to an hour of waiting in a hospital emergency room, the program keeps paramedics and emergency rooms free for life calls. or death.

“It was a bit personal for me”

Todd Beck, fire captain and paramedic with Ashland Fire and Rescue, is grateful for the relief.

“We’re on track to hit 5,000 calls this year,” Beck said.

Since Beck started at Ashland Fire and Rescue in 1999, call volume has increased 400%, while the number of employees has increased only 25%.

“We call them frequent travelers,” Beck said of the homeless, transients, seniors and other vulnerable people who frequently call for help with services he described as care. .

“We’re here to provide emergency services, and often we get called for things that aren’t even remotely an emergency,” he said.

Beck described a frequent flyer, an elderly sailor, a Vietnam veteran who is terminally ill with cancer. The disabled amputee repeatedly called 911 for help cleaning himself or getting back into his wheelchair.

“It was a little personal for me,” Beck said. “My son is in the same branch; he’s a sailor. I couldn’t bear to see this man in this state. But he was proud, you know?

Beck said Ashland Fire and Rescue turned to Sabrina Ballew, the MIH coordinator for Mercy Flights.

Beck credits Ballew and the program with finding the disabled veteran the palliative care he needed.

“We address the social determinants of health,” Ballew said.

Adapt to community needs

The Mercy Flights program is part of a nationwide trend to connect people to healthcare.

“What’s unique about an MIH is that it can be tailored to the needs of a community,” Ballew said.

A typical call may look like an emergency room or emergency home care service. This could include services such as blood tests, prescription refills, defusing panic attacks and COVID-19 vaccinations.

Sometimes care may include helping someone who has fallen and cannot get up, who is disoriented, or who has nutritional deficiencies.

Staff receive cross-training in skills normally reserved for social workers, such as crisis de-escalation, mental health assessment and substance abuse treatment.

The program includes community health workers trained to help patients navigate the complicated labyrinths of social programs, as well as overcome food or housing insecurity.

Staff help through referrals, or sometimes directly. Ballew said during the height of the pandemic shutdowns after the Almeda fire, MIH staff from Mercy Flights delivered boxes of food to people.

Staff may attend doctor’s appointments with people who do not feel able to advocate for their own care. They may work with people coming out of hospital treatment who have difficulty with post-surgical care or a difficult diagnosis.

Fill gaps

The Ashland Community Hospital Foundation grant covers the expansion of the program and its software – the Unite Us digital database.

The software, Rasor explained, helps prevent duplication in patient care.

Patients were sometimes stuck on a pendulum swinging between long-term care plans created by physicians or primary care specialists and prompt emergency medicine administered by paramedics who could not know the history or care long-term patient.

People with disabilities, mental health issues, substance abuse disorders or who are in a state of duress are often unable to articulate their full medical situation to the 911 dispatch or paramedics.

Unite Us helps fill the void by keeping medical records such as treatment plans and diagnoses accessible to MIH personnel and paramedics.

Rasor said his firefighters and paramedics began their Unite Us referral and software training on July 14. He estimates that the program will be ready for referrals in a few weeks.

“A huge burden on our backs”

Medford and Jackson County have been eligible for the program since 2016. The program was started because paramedics felt there was an unmet need, Ballew said.

“Sometimes firefighters or emergency personnel walk into a home and see that the patient may not have stable housing, food, access to care, or an understanding of their medical diagnosis,” Ballew said.

Paramedics and firefighters wanted to address more than the immediate need behind the 911 call. Mercy Flights worked with Providence Medford Medical Center and Jackson Care Connect to establish support for the program in Jackson County.

Now, six years later, Ballew said, the program can point to its 2021 data as proof of success.

The program has seen an 85% increase in the number of patients who return or find a new primary care provider after working with the program; it documented a 71% reduction in readmissions for hospital stays and a 48% reduction in emergency room visits.

Rasor said the grant only pays for one year of additional staff needed to cover the southern end of the Valley, but he hopes the program can collect enough data to prove its worth and cover Ashland, Talent and Phoenix.

“In my experience, it took a huge burden off us,” Beck said.

Those who can think of a neighbor or loved one who could benefit from the Mercy Flights MIH program can call Sabrina Ballew at 541-858-2684.

Community care

Fire District 3, which serves the other side of the valley from Central Point to Sams Valley, has had its own program since 2019, and it operates differently from the Mercy Flights MIH.

While the District 3 Community Care Team evolved from the same paramedical observations of unmet needs, the team itself has more flexible applications.

District 3 911 dispatchers use a system of questions integrated into a computer system to differentiate between different types of calls, from life-threatening emergencies to an urgent but non-fatal call for help.

“If you’re our 911 center and a call comes in, they ask the questions and the code comes out. It’s for the community care team — Crew 22, that’s their call sign — then they go out,” District 3 Chief Bob Horton said.

This system ensures that the response matches the caller’s need, Horton explained.

Like the MIH program, the District 3 team has a paramedic and an EMT with additional training that enables them to meet a wide range of medical and social needs. But the District 3 Community Care Vehicle also responds to emergency calls, if it is the closest available unit.

The Community Care Crew also has partnerships with local nonprofits, Horton said, that can perform preventative caregiving, like installing grab bars in seniors’ homes to keep them from becoming frequent travellers.

Horton said he viewed the program through his own experience working as a paramedic in the Las Vegas area for 17 years.

“The 911 system and the way we answer calls dates back to World War II. We knew the tools we brought weren’t the right tools to solve the problems we were having,” Horton said.

“It’s about adapting response systems to meet the needs of our community.”

Contact Morgan Rothborne, Mail Tribune reporter, at or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.


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