BOISE -- For paramedics, every second counts. Intense training helps them know how to respond in intense situations. But there's another kind of paramedic patient care making an impact in the Treasure Valley.
Ada County Paramedics started its community paramedic program two years ago with funding from Ada County Commissions. It helps recently discharged and referred patients receive care without making a trip to the hospital.
Leaders at Ada County Paramedics say it costs more than $150,000 a year to make this program possible. It helps reduce emergency visits by involving paramedics in the day-to-day lives of many vulnerable patients.
"This program allows us to look at patients as a whole," said Mark Babson, a community paramedic with Ada County Paramedics.
During the last two years, the community paramedic program has been successful. Now, more paramedics are signing up to go back to school and receive the specialized training.
"You know for the last two years, our motto has been we're in it for life, and I think the community paramedic program has an opportunity to treat patients comprehensively," said Rachel Satterwhite, a paramedic who is studying to receive the community paramedic certification. "We really start to help patients learn how to navigate what can be a complicated health care system."
Often, community paramedics go to patients' homes and the trip doesn't involve an ambulance.The visits and follow-ups help community paramedics address issues and keep people out of area hospitals.
"Making sure that they understand when they're supposed to be taking their medications, how they're supposed to be taking their medications, making sure that they understand the importance of diet and following up with their physician," said Satterwhite of what a community paramedic might do on any given day.
Satterwhite hopes to receive her community paramedic certification this fall. It takes about a year to finish the training, but Satterwhite said the hours of studying and hands-on clinical work are worth it.
"It helps us promote health for the patient on a day-to-day basis, which can be just as important as treating them in an emergent setting," she said.
Right now, there are three full-time certified community paramedics on staff at Ada County Paramedics. Three staff members, including Satterwhite, are working toward certification.
Ada County Paramedics leaders say this at-home care keeps patients out of the hospital and allows paramedics to treat them more completely.
"When you understand their environment, again you can really have a dramatic impact on their overall health," said Babson.
Dozens of patients are benefiting from the program. So far this year, community paramedics have helped 51 people throughout the Treasure Valley.
In 2012, they helped nearly 100 patients.
Leaders at Ada County Paramedics say the community paramedic program decreases costs, both for patients and the overall health system, through prevention and education. They hope to continue adding more community paramedic shifts and helping patients navigate the health care system for years to come.
Ada County Paramedics was the first group in the state to start a community paramedic program.