AJ-Mesa partnership expands: 3 mobile medical units to answer low-level emergency calls, treat patients

A medical center, two fire departments and a behavioral-health agency are operating three mobile units in Apache Junction and Mesa to answer low-level emergency calls and treat patients in their homes or where they are injured.

The Community Care Units are part of a partnership with Mountain Vista Medical Center, Mesa Fire and Medical Department, Superstition Fire and Medical Department and Crisis Prevention and Recovery Inc. Officials from the four agencies held a CCU reception May 20 at the medical center, 1301 S. Crismon Road in Mesa.

There were speeches from a variety of people including fire chiefs, a CCU employee and people who were treated by the mobile units. Those who spoke at the presentation were: Tony Marinello, Mountain Vista Medical Center CEO; Mesa Fire and Medical Chief Harry Beck; Superstition Fire and Medical Chief Paul Bourgeois; Dennette Janus of Crisis Prevention and Recovery; Gilbert resident Suzie Jackson, who spoke on behalf of her mother, Nancy Lord, a resident of Mesa, who was a CCU patient; Rhonda and Jeannie Barber of Apache Junction, who were patients treated by a CCU mobile unit; and Donald “Donny” Dunow, who works on the CCU mobile unit.
Staffed by a paramedic employed by a fire department and nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant the hospital employs, the CCU teams can treat wounds, stabilize blood sugar, test for infections, administer shots and write prescriptions. They can refer patients to primary care physicians or specialists and each patient receives a follow-up call a few days later, which decreases reoccurrence rates, according to a press release.

A behavioral-health official also responds to calls, Tom McSherry, president and CEO of Crisis Preparation and Recovery, said after the speeches.

“It’s important for bettering patient care. The ability to provide services quicker and in the home make a huge difference when it comes to treatment,” he said. “It’s nice to have that partnership because we help support each other. Many times the CCU unit may treat the physical piece and then come to find out they’re having some anxiety issues or some depression or some other issues that are preventing them from full recovery and we have to look at the whole body. So it’s nice to have that partnership so we can join services in the home, keep folks out of a higher level of care and reduce the cost.”

He said his Tempe business provides services in 28 hospitals in the valley.

“So we see over 2,500 patients a month in those emergency departments for behavioral health issues. So that’s a lot,” he said.

Mountain Vista’s partnership began in 2012 with one nurse practitioner and Mesa Fire and Medical Department providing a mobile unit and a paramedic captain that operated three days a week, according to the press release.

“When we started it, it started with an EMT and a paramedic as a way to try to handle low-acuity medical calls like scrapes, cuts, bruises, those types of things, even some behavioral health, that were taxing our system from having to send a four-person fire truck on; that’s very expensive and we’re in a process of cutting, in total over three years, over $100 million out of our General Fund budget,” former Mesa City Councilman Scott Somers, who was on the council when the program was approved, said after the speeches. “So we couldn’t afford to continue to send that type of resource on those type of calls. So the fire chief and others got together (on) how can we more-appropriately scale the response to the need and that’s what it grew from. But we also knew there were better options for this, that this really could turn into a national model with the national debate on health care and the cost of health care. This is a model that could fit to that. That’s what you’re seeing today.”

In December, the partnership was expanded to provide 24-hour coverage seven days a week. Mountain Vista employs 11 nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants who staff mobile units in both Mesa and the Apache Junction areas, according to the release.

Todd House, who is on the board of directors at the Superstition Fire and Medical Department and also is on the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, sees the partnership as something that could be done county- and nation-wide, he said after the speeches.

“I was just on vacation and when I was in Virginia I ran into the fire chief and I talked to him about this and he said he’d never heard about it so he was going to be checking into it,” Mr. House said.
“I think it’s going to explode across the country and I think a lot of the fire districts and medical groups are going to get together and see this is a very successful and very good way,” he said. “I think a lot of the fire districts in the county are very interested in this program. We’ll see how it goes forward.”

Mr. House said likes that the program treats people in their homes.

“This is kind of a new program and is very experimental. I know that with Superstition Fire and Medical it is very important because we can service the community people and not have to go to emergency (ward),” he said. “What we ultimately hope will happen, it will drive down the cost of health care because there won’t be so many people going to the emergency ward – they can actually be helped and treated at their homes instead of basically going in and clogging up the emergency wards. It’s a great program. We have been behind it since day one that they got it going. We’re just a small part – Mesa, of course, is a larger district than ours – but we feel we are instrumental in helping them. I think it will be great for the community and Superstition Fire and Medical.”
Mesa City Councilman David Luna, District 5, envisions a future where the partnership could be expanded to other cities.

“Once we determine and collect the data on whether it was successful or not, I think then we can move forward and perhaps expanding it certainly county-wide. But this is a great opportunity. We are going to learn from this experience and then we will have the data and the necessary information to move forward,” Councilman Luna said.

“I think it’s really important that we develop partnerships with certainly medical entities because it helps the city in general and this is a very positive program for our city where we have the medical community and we have the … community in terms of our fire department work together to form a partnership to better serve the residents of the city of Mesa,” he said.

“This is a great opportunity to partner up with the Mountain View Medical Center and to provide that level of service to our citizens so that we are not taking people into the ER and tying up our ERs with folks who we can take care of on the streets or at their homes,” Mesa Councilman Kevin Thompson, District 6, said after the presentation. “It’s a great service that we are providing and ultimately I think it will bring our medical costs down as well for the community, so it’s a great partnership.”

He hopes it could be expanded into other hospitals.

“I hope that Banner and some of the other hospitals get on board and partner with us and really help us out too,” Councilman Thompson said.

“On a local level it is a tremendous cost savings for the local fire department who provides emergency medical services and we’re seeing increased use of assets for emergency medical services and not for fire,” Mr. Somers said. “So we want to be able to utilize our resources for those things that are most life-critical, time-sensitive – fires, traumas, those kinds of things. So it’s saving resources for the city, but nationally there’s a push to change the health care system and to try to save money. For example: keeping people out of the emergency department who don’t need to be there who can be treated just as effectively at another setting.”

Managing Editor Richard Dyer can be contacted at 480-982-7799, via e-mail at rdyer@newszap.com or on Twitter at RHDyer.

Editor Richard Dyer can be reached at rdyer@newszap.com

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