By: McClatchy / EMSWORLD
Jan. 26—Darren Conradson will joke about how being a middle child meant he had to be extroverted and talkative to get noticed, but now it’s his job to use those qualities to help people.
Communication skills are essential for any paramedic because first responders have little time to identify the root of an emergency and treat a patient. But in Conrad’s new role as the Greeley Fire Department’s community paramedic, he’ll spend more time talking to people than he will providing emergency medical services.
He just started the new position this month. As Greeley’s population grows, so does the number of 911 calls first responders must handle. Resources, however, don’t grow at the same rate, meaning the 31 department employees on a given shift are sometimes spread thin across Greeley’s 64 square miles. Further complicating this, not all 911 calls are true emergencies. Greeley Fire Chief Dale Lyman said the department has gotten 911 calls from people who need to refill their prescription medication. The same 100 people are responsible for about 1,000 calls in a given year, Lyman said. Firefighters know them on a first-name basis.
“A lot of people just don’t know who else to call, so they call 911,” Lyman said.
These calls sometimes keep firefighters from responding as quickly as they’d like to urgent situations, such as a house fire or a car crash.
Normally, in the face of higher call volumes, a fire department might add another fire truck and a sprinkling of employees, Lyman said. He and his team knew they didn’t have the resources for that, so they tried something different.
They hired Conradson.
Starting next week, when a call comes in, if it doesn’t appear to be a serious emergency, Conradson will respond to it, along with Jeff Stranahan, the department’s emergency medical services coordinator. A third person—often an employee from North Range Behavioral Health—will join them, because so many of those calls involve mental health concerns. They don’t travel in a fire truck or an ambulance; they drive one of the department’s SUVs.
Once they arrive, if there are medical concerns, Conradson and Stranhan can use their paramedic experience to handle the situation, and if it proves to be a true emergency, they can call for more help. Still, they’ll do more talking than anything else. Conradson compared it to social work.
“It’s very little medical work, but it’s a lot of connecting people with resources,” he said. “It’s sitting down with a patient and talking about their medications and their medical history. What’s really going to help you?”
The team responds to 911 calls, but they also talk to people before they get a call. The Greeley Fire Department partners with a host of other organizations—from the United Way of Weld County to the High Plains Library District—and works to identify the people who might be using 911 for non-emergency calls. They might not have a primary care physician, and the team can help them find one. Or they might be homeless and not know where they can find a place to stay and get something to eat. The conversations aren’t always quick—sometimes a call can take hours—but in the long run, they could reduce the number of calls in Greeley.
“It’s establishing relationships,” Conradson said. “If you don’t have that relationship, a patient isn’t going to trust you.”
Plus, it saves money. During the program’s trial run in 2016, Stranahan said the department identified six people who called 911 because they needed routine medical assistance. Instead of taking them to the emergency room, firefighters connected them to a local community clinic. It saved an estimated $100,000 in Medicaid costs. That’s because on average an emergency room visit costs about $450, compared to $35 at a local clinic.
By this time next week Conradson will have completed the final stages of his orientation at the department and will be on the street, handling calls 10 hours per day Monday through Thursday.
“We feel we can make a difference with some of these folks,” Stranahan said.