COA and fire departments work together to help elderly residents

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Anderson Township Firefighter/Paramedic Brad Baker
In Anderson Township, Firefighter/Paramedic Brad Baker developed a protocol for working with elderly residents.  The department frequently makes referrals to Council on Aging using the online referral form.

The referral came in to Council on Aging’s call center from Anderson Township Fire and Rescue about a week before Christmas. Units had been dispatched to a home for a resident complaining of weakness. They found a much more serious situation: an elderly couple living in unsafe conditions with the husband unable to move about and his wife too sick to help him. Family members who arrived at the scene were concerned for the couple’s safety, but had been frustrated in their previous efforts to help. They were open to having the fire department make a referral to COA.

Council on Aging has increased outreach to local fire departments to help ensure that emergency medical personnel are aware of how we can help them serve the older adults in their communities.

Some of the daily challenges faced by emergency personnel are likewise familiar to COA and can sometimes be addressed by our interventions and services.

“Frequent, non-emergency, 911 calls from elderly residents are something that every fire department handles all the time, but can strain resources,” said COA Vice President of Communications Laurie Petrie. “The problem may arise because the older person is alone, fearful, prone to falling, and becoming less able to function independently. They may be eligible for in-home care services through COA, or, if there is a family caregiver involved, we may be able to provide support and connection to community resources.”

Hoarding is another safety problem that fire departments regularly encounter, particularly among older people who have lived in the same house or apartment for many years. For people who qualify for COA programs, major chore service such as heavy cleaning and pest control, may be available.

Larry Bennett, Chairman of the University of Cincinnati Fire Science and Emergency Management Program, has done a tremendous amount to help COA connect with fire departments through his efforts to prepare our region for community paramedicine. Over the past two years, Bennett has convened a number of seminars and workshops on community paramedicine and invited COA to give presentations. Petrie and Kim Clark, Manager of the Elderly Services Program at COA, have also served on the advisory committee for the program’s new one-week course on community paramedicine which will be held in March, 2016. Petrie will give a presentation on March 24 as part of the course.

Under new legislation passed with Ohio's Biennium Budget in July 2015, local fire and EMS departments are now permitted to practice community paramedicine. Previously, EMS personnel could not provide services in people’s homes unless they were summoned there to respond to an emergency. Under the new law, trained paramedics may perform emergency medical services in a non-emergency basis if the services are performed under the direction of the department's medical director or cooperating physician advisory board.

In addition to the UC course, numerous other community paramedicine pilot programs and experiments are getting underway, including in Monroe, Colerain Township, Springfield Township, and the City of Cincinnati.

In Anderson Township, Firefighter/Paramedic Brad Baker developed a department protocol and training for serving the community’s older residents. He has also gone out of his way to learn about COA programs and operations, train department personnel, and has made several referrals.

For all his efforts though, Baker has encountered a common frustration: not everyone who needs help wants help or will follow through. Several of his referrals have gone nowhere because the people have refused to follow up on our efforts to reach them, even when they have told the responding EMS crew that they want help.

“I do get discouraged,” Baker said, “but my plan is to keep making referrals based upon requests from the crews and get assistance to those who are receptive.”

Connecting to COA does help Baker track what has happened with cases, he said. “The tracking of cases is important because we can monitor repeat calls and if conditions worsen, step things up a notch and make contact with APS (Adult Protective Services).”

As for the older couple referred by Baker just before Christmas, the husband was taken to the hospital where he later died and the family placed his wife in a nursing home. COA stayed in touch with the family and informed Baker.

“My department will keep moving forward with this new program and help as many people as we can,” he said.

COA has made it easy for fire/EMS personnel and other professionals to make referrals to Aging and Disability Resource Connections, our call center. Simply use the online form or call 800-252-0155 and choose option 1.