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There's an effort to get EMTs to respond to more than than medical emergencies

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

EMTs respond to emergency situations like accidental falls, overdoses, heart attacks. That's why the E stands for emergency - makes perfect sense. But there is an effort to get these professionals to respond to more than just medical emergencies. Carter Barrett of Side Effects Public Media brings us the story.

CARTER BARRETT, BYLINE: This evolving approach in the way paramedics are deployed is called mobile integrated health or community paramedicine. The aim is to connect them closer with patients and doctors and, in turn, reduce emergency room visits.

In Crawfordsville, Ind., a small town an hour northwest of Indianapolis, community paramedics drive to people's homes, to places where the police are involved - like scenes of overdoses - but also increasingly to non-emergencies.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I got my...

DARREN FORMAN: Hey, Caitlyn (ph).

BARRETT: Today, paramedic Darren Forman is driving to visit Ashley Newkirk, who is part of a program called Project Swaddle to help expecting moms with risky pregnancies. She gave birth to her third child, Wilder, five weeks ago.

ASHLEY NEWKIRK: Like, for the baby, he checks, like, his heart rate and he listens to his chest and weighs him and measures his head and his length. And then he gets my weight and my vitals.

FORMAN: Good. How's our head strength today? Can you lift your little head up? He's like, leave me be, dude. Not going to? Not going to do it? OK. I get it. I get it.

BARRETT: Newkirk enrolled in this program because she developed gestational diabetes with her first pregnancy. Forman runs the program.

FORMAN: When we have a mom that's not really maybe expected to go all the way to term or maybe not even be able to get to, you know, viability and we get them all the way through, there's just no better feeling. I get that picture of the baby in the hospital with the mom, and all's right with the world.

BARRETT: Paul Miller is EMS Chief of the Crawfordsville Fire Department and says being invited into someone's home helps him assess someone's situation in a way doctors often can't.

PAUL MILLER: So you can see if their bills are being paid, if they have food insecurities, transportation insecurities - and really helps break down a lot of those barriers and access the help they need in the community.

BARRETT: Because it's such a new program, there's not much data yet in Crawfordsville. But research on similar mobile health programs supports this approach. But launching a community paramedicine program can be costly and difficult because many departments face massive workforce shortages. Still, it appears this approach to health care is growing. Honolulu, rural Michigan, North Carolina - all recently launched community paramedicine programs.

Abbey Gregg is an assistant professor at University of Alabama's community medicine department. She says the pandemic has highlighted the need for this kind of service.

ABBEY GREGG: Each community paramedicine intervention is very unique because the gaps in every health care system are very different. We're at a place where we can no longer ignore how our health care system has some failures. So interventions that are innovative like this and disruptive really do need to continue to grow.

BARRETT: In 2021, the federal government started to pay for this service in a few pilot programs. Gregg says if expanded, could eventually contribute to a big jump in the number of community paramedic programs across the country.

For NPR News, I'm Carter Barrett.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIGHTMARES ON WAX'S "FIRE IN THE MIDDLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.